Remember Kevin Rudd’s Australia 2020 summit, billed at the time as a people’s forum to help “shape a long-term strategy for the nation’s future”. It was 2008. Rudd was a new and exciting Prime Minister who appeared determined to shake things up. The Summit looked like clear evidence that this government would do things differently, that here was a government that listened, led by a PM who wanted to bring us all on the journey.

The Summit was a very high-profile event, with 1000 delegates selected from across Australian society. Actors and other famous types were hand-picked to chair 10 working groups, each of 100 people. It was a big deal, an enormous event and a huge logistical undertaking, a massive investment in doing government differently. It looked like this government was actually trying to collaborate with us, the people. It was exciting.

Over two days Australia’s ‘best and brightest’ rolled their sleeves up and got stuck into some big and difficult issues. There was enough flip chart paper and sticky notes to sink a ship. At the end of the summit there were speeches and everyone went home exhausted, having done their best to nut out some hard problems.

A final report from the summit was handed down. 135 of the 138 recommendations were rejected.

And this is the difference between doing collaboration and being collaborative. To do collaboration was to get 1000 people in the room and ask them to come up with recommendations. Easy. But being collaborative, thinking like a collaborator, the PM would have recognised that:

  • Authentically tackling complex problems requires investment in relationships, which in turn requires time and space for conversation.
  • Learning is at the core of useful collaboration, and with it, the disagreement, challenge, exploration, joint fact finding and coming together that demonstrate we have learned from and about each other.
  • Letting go of control and releasing power are essential to authentic collaboration. Micro-management of issues and scopes and information and messaging are anathema.
  • Making decisions about the merit of recommendations is a key part of any collaboration. Do this with not to stakeholders.
  • Genuine diversity of opinion is essential. Handpicking the ‘best and brightest’ is to impose my views on the event.

I believe the PM and his government were genuinely trying to do something different. But, as is often the case, they invested hugely in the doing without making the same effort in the being. And if there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that being collaborative trumps doing it every time. When we think like collaborators we stand a good chance of authentically collaborating. The reverse is much less true.

So are you both doing collaboration and being collaborative?

Twyfords' training and coaching programs build your collaborative muscles while you work. Contact us to find out how we can work with you.

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