Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mysterious Art of Collaboration

In a recent presentation about linking knowledge management and the Balanced Scorecard, a colleague pointed to "focussed dialog" as necessary for any effective business planning / management framework and process. Part of the conversation turned to the general observation of how a lot of planning and management activities arrange for the right people to be in the right room for the right reasons, but there often seems to be an implicit assumption that when the doors close "magic" happens - productive conversations take place, issues & problems are well identified, cause is effectively determined, decisions well made, and innovative thinking takes place.

Granted that some of this magic must take place, or we would not have the many successful organizations we've seen in the public, private and NGO sectors. It safe to say, then that in many cases the opposite is true and there are ample opportunities for improvement?
A few very interesting blog entries have touched on the topic of collaboration:

I think that for people to collaborate effectively they need the following:
A) Common understanding of what is meant by collaboration and what distinguishes it from other forms of interaction
Himmelman has some good basic, incremental definitions:
  • Networking - Exchanging information for mutual benefit
  • Coordinating - Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities to achieve a common purpose
  • Cooperating - Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities and sharing resources to achieve a common purpose
  • Collaborating - Exchanging information for mutual benefit, and altering activities, sharing resources, and enhancing the capacity of another to achieve a common purpose
  • Co-Evolution - An interesting term I stumbled across after discovering "Beyond Partnerships" report on the Really Learning web site, it defines Co-Evolution as "... the ‘deepest’ form of partnership. It can consume considerable time from key players, so it is not for the fainthearted! It should, therefore, not be attempted if one of the other forms is more appropriate. It requires new thinking, new insights, new generosity about opportunities or problems, and these problems or opportunities are as yet unarticulated or not understood. As the outcomes aren’t at all clear, neither party can simply pursue their existing goals; they will need to be prepared to develop new goals as they become apparent. Thus it will be important to be able to examine assumptions, invert thinking, acknowledge where things (or thinking) have gone wrong, and where partners may need to let resources go in order to achieve the greater good. "
Dave Pollard also defines collaboration as "... finding the right group of people (skills, personalities, knowledge, work-styles, and chemistry), ensuring they share commitment to the collaboration task at hand, and providing them with an environment, tools, knowledge, training, process and facilitation to ensure they work together effectively." A fairly holistic view.
B) A reason to collaborate - where there are issues / problems that cannot be tacked by a single group acting alone.
C) Defined, explicit, facilitated group processes roles and responsibilities for fundamental processes - planning, cause analysis, decision making, issue identification & prioritization, and innovation / idea generation.
E) A collaborative attitude (you could call this principles / values), which I suggest comes directly from Roger Schwartz' work on Facilitative Leadership, specifically:
  • seek to collect and share valid information. Valid information includes all the relevant information you have on the subject (whether it supports your position or not)
  • seek to encourage free and informed choice so that people agree to do things because they have the relevant information and because they believe the decision makes sense, not because they feel manipulated or coerced into it.
  • seek internal commitment to the decisions, which often flows from the first two values—with this level of motivation, people will do whatever is necessary to implement the decisions.
  • value compassion, which means temporarily suspending judgment in order to appreciate others’ perspectives. It means having empathy for others and for yourself in a way that still holds people accountable for their actions rather than unilaterally protecting others or yourself.
Robert Hargrove's work in Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration includes a Collaborative Model that points to key collaborative behaviours including:
  • designating new possibilities, seeking creative & entrepreneurial results
  • building collaborative networks and new patters of relationships and interactions
  • showing authenticity and vulnerability
  • showing attitude of learning, and equating success with questions
  • balancing advocacy of views with inquiry into own and others' thinking
  • listening to understand others
  • acknowledging talents and gifts of others and providing an enabling environment
Collaborative-oriented competencies in areas such as active listening, written & verbal communications, coaching, facilitation, negotiation, empathy, analysis, synthesis, creativity, and too many to go into here.
I think that improving how people interact, both the processes and the way people work together (approach, attitudes, principles, values), are fundamental to meaningful success in knowledge management. Its also fundamental to ACHIEVING success in KM and any other change initiative.
And yet, it seems to often be the last thing considered. I expect that's because, since we humans are involved, it's complicated, challenging, time consuming, frustrating, difficult, often requiring somewhat different skills and perspectives.
But in terms of outcomes, the rewards are "priceless."
(BTW, Collaboration: What Makes It Work from the Wilder Research Center includes a Collaboration Factors Survey/Inventory that is well worth a look.)

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