Practicing the Art of How to Collaborate (2)

In the second installment of collaboration, we look at ways to collaborate. Each art form is different. And we must practice it accordingly. So how do we practice this art? Through awareness, architecture, relationships, and tools. Also known as A²RT!

4.1 Awareness and Architecture

We need to practice reflection. For instance, we need to know that our intention does not always translate into the way we show up or respond. We should also observe our behaviour. Thereafter, look for feedback in the system, and then course correct.

We need to consciously architect or create the conditions for effective collaboration. We need to prepare people for collaboration by setting the ground rules for ways to collaborate. Then we need to design conversations, design for inclusive engagement, build in thinking and participation time. Setting up conditions is not enough. Once we have built the conditions and set up the container or safe space, much like river banks that guide the flow and prevent destruction. We need to be able to hold the space and facilitate navigation for and with people. Until rivulets find one another, start to merge and the flow gains momentum.

4.2 Relationship skills

Rich collaboration happens when voices are considered, heard and collective genius emerges. This process requires relationship skills that include establishing norms, nurturing curiosity, and active listening. It further requires the ability to cultivate respect, dealing with differences or conflicts, inviting perspectives, or the ability to include and holding multiple perspectives without judgement. Difference and conflict are like cross currents and rapids. The ability to build a community for the benefit of the larger system requires agreeing on where dam walls are needed when sluice gates are opened, navigating rapids and waterfalls, and repairing damage together when there are floods.

4.3 Collaborative culture

If we want people to contribute and collaborate, we need to create psychological safety, radical transparency, and exponential appreciation. Stef Du Plesis provides useful guidelines on how to create a culture of engagement. He uses a process to establish ground rules that form the foundation for building the culture you want. Using his approach provides a baseline understanding of the lived culture in respect of collaboration. Questions that could be asked:

Complete the sentence, around here…

  • When we need to come up with a solution…
  • At the time when decisions are made…
  • When someone wants to say something in a meeting…
  • When someone comes up with a new idea…

Once we understand the lived values, we complete these questions by asking what the aspirational responses need to be and understand what needs to change to get there. 

4.4 Tools

Ways to collaborate include but are not limited to an understanding of the approaches, philosophies, and methodologies in the paragraphs that follow.

Once we understand the lived values, we complete these questions by asking what the aspirational responses need to be and understand what needs to change to get there. 

4.4.1 Theory U

Otto Scharma has developed a framework, process, and skills for us to use when we are serious about doing things with people and not with them. Theory U helps us understand the process of collaboration. It follows a process of co-initiating, co-sensing, presencing, co-creating, and co-evolving.

As we guide people through the flow from co- initiating to co-evolving, we feel the energy of the tributaries of the river converging. Co-initiating requires an open heart to observe, take in without judging. Co-sensing involves empathy, exploring what it is like for you and others. When you look at an aerial image of a river, you see all its sources. Presencing involves standing back, letting insights and ideas emerge, in preparation for the co-creation that follows.


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