Why does collaboration matter?

Collaboration seems so simple, after all, we are hard-wired for it.

Yet it is too often elusive. Too many peers don’t collaborate, they compete, they reinforce their silos and protect their turf. And everyone else ends up feeling exhausted and unproductive.

An ANZSOG review of 112 Australian and New Zealand watchdog reports (by auditors of some form), conducted by Wilkins, Phillimore and Gilchrist concluded that collaboration remains problematic: they went as far as to say that it is one of the more challenging issues of public administration. Trust was not even addressed in any of the reviews, and although some reviews did consider leadership, they did so only to identify a lack of leadership as a significant issue.

Collaboration works well when there’s the right preparation, there’s clarity of focus, people are prepared to listen to each other, and there’s some common ground.

A conversation I had last week with one of my coaching executives, Tony, who is a CFO in a private sector organisation highlighted both why collaboration can be so challenging, but also how it can be energising. The organisation has a huge change agenda that is described as undoable, the culture is highly competitive.

Tony often talks about feeling ‘smashed’ by the workload. He has a deteriorating relationship with one his peers looking after operations.  At an exec committee meeting he ‘blasted’ Tony for causing problems that mean he can’t achieve his outcomes.

Tony felt burnt by his comments and undermined in front of his peers. In his head he’s saying it’s not worth it, I’m going to resign, this can’t continue.

Then coming out of the meeting he decides he’s got to call his peer on it, this can’t go on, they have to do something. He asked in frustration: ‘What can I do to help you? What do you need from me?’ 

The peer turned around and agreed to make time and be clear about what he needed that he wasn’t getting. And he said ‘I’ll do this if you will give me feedback too.’

What was becoming a toxic, fraught relationship was turned around. The shift in their relationship is dramatic.

With the right zone for peers to collaborate, they move from being competitors working in silos to collaborative communities of practice. They set up a sustainable cycle of practice and learning that fuels innovation and high performance. 

If, like Tony, you are tearing your hair out because you can’t make headway with that colleague who just won’t collaborate, what are some tactics you can use?

We’ve all been there. One of my most challenging leadership roles was one where I and another peer held joint leadership responsibilities. Unfortunately, he didn’t like the idea of sharing responsibility, the boss wasn’t good at setting the context, and simple decisions became complex and time-consuming.

To be a good collaborator means both wanting to collaborate and knowing how. 

📌 Those who don’t want to and don’t know how to are avoiders. Yes, your worst nightmare.

📌 Blockers know how to, but don’t want to.

📌 Followers don’t know how to, but (breathe a sigh of relief!) they are willing to learn.

📌 Advocates are role models, who both know how to, and want to.

Tony switched himself from being a blocker to being an advocate, and found that his peer was prepared to make that same shift with him.

As an advocate of collaboration, what tactics do you successfully use to encourage others to collaborate?

Here are some suggestions, based on an understanding of human motivation.

To influence others, we need to know what their motivators are. Motivation drives influence. If we know what motivates people, we can influence them more effectively. For mutual gain.

According to BJ Fogg, there are 3 key motivators that work either positively or negatively. We approach what is positive and we avoid the negative. If we want to encourage others to do what we want them to do, then the approach side is the way to go.

(The avoid side shuts down behaviour – it works AGAINST rather than FOR change.)

The motivations:

✔︎ sensation – pleasure (vs pain)

✔︎ anticipation – hope (vs fear)

✔︎ social belonging – (acceptance vs rejection)

Just discussing these motivations, and considering how to use them more, became energising in a recent collaboration workshop. The positive energy in the room was tangible.

Most collaborative efforts don’t get to the heart of collaboration because they remain about the stuff rather than the people. And not because you want it to be that way.

How might you use more pleasure, hope and acceptance to influence your collaborations?

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