Collaboration is an Individual Pursuit

Four years ago my co-author Jane Ripley came to me and said we really need to take a closer look at collaborative cultures and how they impact productivity and moral. Jane was doing her dissertation in collaboration in the School of Business at Kingston University, UK. I blew it off, because I have spent my life working with teams, so I assumed I knew what true collaboration was. After all, to be effective, teams have to be collaborative. However, she insisted, collaboration is beyond teams. I was intrigued.

In her literature review, she tried to simplify the complexity of collaboration into a useable dashboard for organizations wanting to adopt a collaborative culture. She identified four indicators of a collaborative culture.

  1. Mission, Goals and Results
  2. Culture and Values
  3. Leadership and Empowerment
  4. Systems, Structures and Policies

Using these four indicators, I began to take a broader view when working with my clients who claimed or aspired to have a collaborative culture. I read whatever I could find on collaborative cultures and organizations. I became totally immersed in the subject. The more I read, the more my awareness and excitement grew. I began to realize that teams were a step in the right direction, but they were not the answer.

I began to contemplate the possibilities of collaboration and some ‘what ifs’:

The whole organization was an open collaborative system where answers and contribution could come from anywhere?

  • There were no silos?
  • There was no blame for well-intentioned failures?
  • If everyone felt responsible for results?
  • Everyone had the opportunity to grow and the resources of the organization could be used freely.
  • I began to imagine the possibilities if there were no silos. I also began to see that even teams could be silos. I realized how powerful a truly collaborative organization could be and how few of them there are.

All the books I read talked about the benefits of collaboration, the elements of a collaborative culture, the associated competencies and what organizations might do to facilitate collaboration. However, it was always objective and looking from a distant perspective. None of them hit the mark.

The research project Jane did was a turning point for me. It produced the missing piece. She studied an organization that had declared that they were to become a collaborative organization. They had consciously put in place practices that had addressed the 4 indicators.  However, it wasn’t working. The question was ‘Why not?’

The research my colleague did for her dissertation showed it does not matter what the organization has in place, it is how the individual sees their world. Collaboration happens at an individual level. Person to person. People can’t wait for it to happen, they have to go and do it and take responsibility for making it happen and not wait for the organization to drive it.

Along with Dr. Ken Blanchard, We decided to use a simple model that reflects our collective findings that collaboration starts with the individual. The framework we use is Heart, Head and Hands. Within these three domains live the five key ingredients that create a collaborative mindset.

For this posting, I will just share the framework we use.

The Heart

This is your character, your intentions. It starts on the inside. A collaborative heart is about getting your ego out of the way and brings out the best in others. It is about seeking out, different perspectives, and encouraging contributions. It is about helping people to feel safe in speaking up.

The Head

This is your attitude and beliefs. It means holding the belief that people want to perform so providing clear goals and purpose.

The Hands

This is what you do on a daily basis, for example sharing information and knowledge, empowering yourself and others to share in decision-making, networking and encouraging self-leadership.

Heart, Head and Hands It all begins with you.

In my next blog, I will share what we found to be the five key ingredients that drive collaboration.


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1 thought on “Collaboration is an Individual Pursuit

  1. Yes, getting ego out of the way does seem to be a key quality for those wanting to work collaboratively. Another way of putting it is that those seeking to collaborate need to be ‘assertively selfless’: control the demands of their egos and sometimes support and explore others’ ideas and perceptions rather than their own. There has been some interesting work done within the area of gaming which indicates that people are becoming increasingly willing to support the goals of those that have beat them. I describe this (and assertive selflessness) here: Put more simply, those seeking to collaborate need to realise that sometimes being a ‘first follower or champion’ of someone else’s idea can be the most valuable thing to do:

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