The promise and possibility of collaboration is joyful, playful co-creation. When the hearts, minds, and spirits of a group come together to address shared opportunities and challenges, the palette of options, ideas, and energies we employ expands, and new colors emerge from the synergies between participants.
In the context of Working for Good, with our commitment to manifesting more conscious behavior in business and fostering individual and collective growth and development, collaboration is essential. It is the platform for putting our skills of awareness and connection into practice.
Without the need to collaborate, we can simply dream of our visions of a better world and grandiose accomplishments. But as soon as we begin working to manifest our visions and pursue action, we encounter other people with their visions and pursuits, as well as egos, personalities, and behavior patterns. While some people are easier for us to work with than others, all require some degree of attention, energy, and accommodation on our part.
Life is Collaboration
If we think about it, we collaborate all of the time. Likewise, most of us live in relative peace most of the time; that is, we aren’t fighting or at war. Peace, like collaboration, is relative, and we experience it to varying degrees and at different levels.
Families, communities, and the global marketplace all require constant collaboration and cooperation, most of which is unconscious—built into the fabric of coexistence. We collaborate one-on-one, one-with-many, and one among-many. The underlying cultural norms, the basic trust, understanding, and relationships we have with others, and the mutual benefit facilitated by the inherent nature of social groups and the voluntary exchange in the marketplace foster a culture of collaboration.
Collaboration has many faces and tones. We collaborate out of necessity for survival and mechanically in compliance with social norms. We collaborate to ingratiate ourselves with others, feel good about ourselves, establish our social position, and fulfill our drive to serve. And we collaborate because we are called to do so—to share in becoming more human and realizing more of our individual and collective potential. If we want to change the world and serve as agents of change within business, we must collaborate consciously and effectively.
The Process of Collaboration
Collaboration becomes an issue when it is challenging and when it needs to be conscious and explicit: to address complex issues, overcome conflicts, and make difficult decisions together. Collaboration to explore new territory, create together, and bring new vision to life frequently evokes creative tension, confrontation, and challenges. And collaboration requires a degree of intimacy, which stirs things up and takes us to our edges as our psyche, ego, and perspectives are confronted by those of others.
Facilitate means “to make easy.” Facilitation is the art and practice of making collaboration easy (or easier), and facilitative behaviors foster ease of movement through even the most challenging passages. Facilitation presupposes our intention to collaborate, our interest in doing so without getting mired in conflict, and our commitment to authentic relationship and individual and collective growth. Facilitation catalyzes the wisdom of the group and fosters decisions that engage the hearts and minds of all involved in order to generate unified action.
Awareness is the ultimate facilitation skill, enabling us to skillfully apply other facilitation skills. To respond effectively to challenges to collaboration, we have to see ourselves, understand our relationship to others, recognize the context and behavior patterns of others, and read both individual and unfolding group processes. Awareness is essential to recognizing the risks of facilitation, bringing them to light, and effectively addressing them.
A key objective of facilitation and collaboration is to establish shared responsibility for success. To be successful, our meetings and other collaboration platforms need to lead to informed decisions and clear action steps that advance the aims of our larger collaboration. The process needs to engage participants and facilitate information exchange and decision-making, and relationships need to be characterized by mutual respect and honesty—and be strengthened through the process.
Facilitative behaviors foster the flow of collaboration. Some set the context for ease of collaboration. The practices of self-awareness, deep listening, dialogue, and wise speech are fundamentally facilitative behaviors. Making and keeping to our agreements are also facilitative behaviors. Establishing clearly defined roles and decision-making processes are highly facilitative, as they establish a clear context for collaboration. Checking in with one another to ensure that we are on the same page, suspending our judgments, and asking one another to do the same are facilitative.
Other facilitative behaviors serve to restore ease when it is disrupted. Interventions include reinforcing the ground rules and agreements we set to guide our collaboration, engaging the group in addressing challenging questions, and checking in to see whether members are in the same place or the group needs to realign itself in some way. Slowing down is almost always facilitative, unless the group process clearly calls for speeding up.
We can embody facilitative behaviors whether we are serving as a facilitator or participating in a collaboration and addressing the challenges and conflicts in it
Harvesting the Fruits of Collaboration
Successful meetings stimulate creativity, cultivate shared understanding, and generate good feelings, but ultimately they need to lead to action. An essential step in any meeting or collaborative process is that of clearly defining next steps—and identifying responsibility, accountability, and authority for taking those steps. Other strategies for producing coordinated action after a meeting include circulating minutes and giving people an opportunity to comment on and refine them; creating support systems for people taking action on behalf of the group, including establishing teams instead of leaving the work to an individual; evaluating the meeting itself to root out inefficiencies for the next time; and taking the time to appreciate one another’s contributions before the meeting adjourns. The latter has the effect of deepening the connection between the participants and energizing them as they head back into the larger work environment.
Collaboration often invites chaos and requires creative tension. But when facilitated with mindfulness and clear process, it leads to magnificent creativity and powerful productivity. If we are going to make the world a better place through our work, we must collaborate effectively. Working for Good, is Working for Good, together!