Friday, September 14, 2007

Cognitive Barriers to Collaboration

I attended a management seminar earlier in the week, hosted by master storyteller Frank Rambeau, to verify the alignment of the seminar's core principles with those of collaboration and knowledge work (and fortunately they were), and of course, to reinforce, remind, and learn as well. It's hard to move ahead if you don't have the basics right, or if you unconsciously develop bad habits!

The workshop focused on the need for managers to create a highly collaborative, participative"climate" that encourages staff to contribute to business outcomes, and enables their staff to develop and succeed, as opposed to a mechanistic approach to directing and controlling actions and behaviours in simplistic, rather Pavlovian (or in some instances Machiavellian) ways. Some of the core competencies referenced were collaboration, facilitative leadership, and good communication based on empathetic listening. (Hey.. where did all that cheering come from!)

Much of the discussions was about what managers should do to create the right climate for knowledge work, and what they, or should I say "we", often do that gets in the way. We are all "our own worst enemies" at some time or other are we not, often acting in ways that defy all logic and overwhelming evidence to the contratry?

Have you ever wondered, after a particularly unproductive meeting or conversation, why people have difficulty working together / collaborating? Why people can hear / read the same thing and take away a different meaning? There are many reasons, but in the context of collaborative work, "cognitive biases" play a major role in disconnecting and derailing even the best of communications, information and knowledge sharing intentions.

What are cognitive biases? I generally define them as ways of thinking that, singly or in combination, are limiting, or inappropriate, for a given circumstance or context. (It may not be technically accurate, but it works for me.. )

As an example, the a common critique of having "having blinders on", can be linked to one of the cognitive biases called "anchoring", which is basically to use a past event, or a single piece of information, to make a decision, ignoring broader valid information.

Being told "we don't do it that way here" in the context of resisting change, can be associated to a "status quo bias".

Take someone who says, in reflecting on a recent event or outcome, "I knew that would happen all along!" If they didn't / couldn't have predicted the outcome in advance, yet tell themselves they did, they're likely exhibiting "hindsight bias."

When I look at a more extensive list of the various biases (for example I certainly wonder how we humans get anything done!

And that's only the start! Imagine what can happen when an individual unconsciously defaults to their "home" type of reasoning (e.g. deductive, inductive, abductive, fallacious) when a situation calls for a different one, or when conflicting types of reasoning implicitly held by participants collide in a meeting or conversation! (

For me, different ways of thinking and viewing the world represents a never ending challenge to collaboration, but also a never ending wealth of possibility and potential.

No comments: