The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic - Peter Drucker

The TurningTides Blog

Ideas and inspiration from Turning Tides

A NEW TAKE ON COLLABORATION

Collaboration AK

Adam Kahane’s new book - ‘Collaborating with the Enemy’ - is a must for anyone having to collaborate with diverse others whatever the context. Indeed, it should be recommended reading on leadership programmes where there is a need to work across organisational and/or cultural boundaries. With the economic situation as it is, collaboration is fundamental to the sustainability of services.

 

To begin with oneself...' is a maxim that can trip glibly off the tongue, but Adam takes us below the surface. With honesty, humility and pragmatism he shows why we must change ourselves before we can reach out and fully connect with others who don't share our view.

 

"Collaborating with others, especially others who we do not agree with or like or trust us, requires us to join with them as equals".

 

‘Enemyfying’

Many of the case studies in the book relate to ‘high stakes’ fraught and sometimes warring situations. However, I would urge the reader not to be put off thinking that ‘Collaborating with the Enemy’ is less relevant if their collaborative assignments are more in the mainstream. I struggled with the language initially, especially ‘enemy’ and ‘fight’. However, having read all of Adam’s previous books I’ve always found something that resonates with my work in an organisational context. They prod and challenge. They change the conversations.

 

When faced with the need to work with others who hold opposing views Adam maintains that we tend to assume one of four positions. We collaborate, force, adapt or exit. However, our work environments nowadays are so complex that conventional notions of collaboration can be too limited.

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Collaboration: the hidden dynamics of belonging

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There are few work places these days where collaboration isn’t on everyone’s lips. Or at least on the horizon. Individuals and teams are brought together for a variety of reasons. To reduce duplication, improve services, promote sustainability and in some cases, to ensure survival.  But leading merged or integrated teams is probably what gives leaders the most headaches.

Bringing people from different backgrounds and philosophies together in a shared endeavour is often laden with factionalism. 

In previous leadership roles I was often left perplexed when teams would move in an agreed direction of change only to spring back to where they had been a few weeks earlier. Like releasing the stretch on an elastic band. Ping!

Something had the system in its grip, but what?

As a coach and facilitator I work with leaders who are navigating complex change. Health and social care is one such example where they are working together to create a new landscape of integrated services. It's a complex business.

There's a tendency to focus attention at the level of the individual or the team when things get stuck. But sometimes 'difficult behaviours', conflict and repeating patterns are actually manifestations of something amiss in the system. 

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Boundaries create the freedom to innovate

Yin and Yang

Making change happen is difficult. But sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. In complex organisations where services are interconnected and interdependent, one of the most helpful interventions we can make is to clearly define the parameters for change.

 Boundaries help people make sense of what aspect of their world is changing and what, for now, is staying the same. It's an element of the change process that tends to get cursory attention. My guess is that it gets caught up in the 'we don't want to be too prescriptive' box.

The result? We heighten the anxiety for those caught up in the change. 

A clearly bounded change initiative helps create the security for people to let go of personal concerns and put their energies into moving forward. Maslow's Hierarchy of needs has been an enduring guide for me in this respect. It's hard for people to rise to the challenge if they're experiencing crippling anxiety about what the change means for them.

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