A Natural Sense of Self-protection Can Scupper Effective Collaboration

By Heather Campbell

Global Collaboration

Recently I’ve been working with another organisation to co-create an exciting new opportunity for leaders to develop their communication skills to an advanced level. (More about that over the next few weeks – so keep watching if you are a senior leader or business professional and want to polish your skills in communicating with bosses, peers and direct reports.)

This project means that we have to work collaboratively, crossing organisational boundaries and managing diverse – sometimes conflicting – goals; thus opening ourselves and our work up to in-depth scrutiny from another organisation. This has brought to the surface for me some useful reminders of the emotional and highly personal impact of collaborative working:

How vulnerable we can feel when we expose our ideas to ‘outsiders’ explicitly for their scrutiny and critique

How defensive we can automatically become when our ideas are challenged by these ‘outsiders’

How humbling it is to have a metaphorical mirror held up; one that shows us how restricted our personal perspective can be, and how many other ways there are to make sense of the same thing when seen from an entirely different perspective

How rewarding it is to get breakthroughs in thinking as ideas from different worlds merge and evolve to create something new and more powerful as a result

Helping individuals, teams and organisations develop the communication skills and processes that create effective collaboration, I find that collaborative working fails to deliver because individuals (or even organisations) put up barriers rather than working through the vulnerability and the defensiveness. While this is an entirely natural reaction – a well-developed need or desire for self-protection – it also means they do not get to the triumph of breakthrough.

Of course, the more diverse the group, the more complex the collaboration becomes with more barriers to get in the way. In an increasingly globalised world where we have to communicate across multiple boundaries, and often with people we have never met, effective collaboration requires patience, transparency and understanding from everyone involved. Not an easy combination when natural emotional reactions so easily get in the way.

What lessons have you learned from working collaboratively with others? Have these been other organisations or other teams within your own organisation? Have the groups been homogeneous or highly diverse (culture, age, interests, goals)? How has the homogeneity/diversity got in the way? In what ways has it brought positive impact?

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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