Reflections on Collaboration Gleaned from a Dialogue with OS Program Students
Organizations are dynamic interactive human social networks.
Ecosystems of relationships enabling knowledge and practical wisdom to be applied so organizations can reach their mission and serve their clientele are the heart and soul of contemporary organizations.
Increasingly, collaborative workplace systems are the preferred organizational model, but being collaborative is not easy. Plus, an organization must be ready to work collaboratively and involve the right people. Often the more complex the organization or its tasks, the more innovative and open-ended the collaborative process must be. With open-ended collaboration, though, comes a greater risk for ambiguity and potential anxiety.
In Redesigning Leadership, when discussing the leader as a creative person, John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, points out, “Artists don’t distinguish between the act of making something and the act of thinking about it—thinking and making evolve together in an emergent, concurrent fashion. As a result, when approaching a project, an artist often doesn’t seem to plan it out. She just goes ahead and begins, all the while collecting data that inform how she will continue. A large part of what drives her confidence to move forward is her faith in her ability to course correct and improvise as she goes.”
There is an insight here about the nature of organizational collaboration, particularly the “open-ended” form. Collaboration can be focused, as in a team project with a clear goal, a delineated path to reach it, and a defined process to follow. Such an approach, while clearly set out, still needs a certain amount of “course correction” or refinement as the project progresses. At times, the specific outcomes of a project may not be clear. The exact pathway may not be able to be determined at the outset.
While the project and process have a trajectory, an open-ended collaborative approach is needed which allows one to be entrepreneurial and adaptive. Its fluid structure develops as the project “evolves.” Such risky behavior, while it can devolve into unproductive chaos, can also allow for a culture of innovation to emerge, take hold, and enable creativity to flourish. Valuable unexpected insights and avenues to pursue often result from this course of action.
Open-ended collaboration, being emergent in nature, works well when interactive and experimental networks are established and promoted throughout the organization. Such collaborative efforts, as the OS Program students of the 2013 Spring Team Development and Collaborative Workplace systems would say, require that team members “show up,” “be present,” and be “wholly committed” to each other and the success of the team process. This is a critical element that is on often overlooked.
Madea contends that “alliances are grounded in reliances” with “all owning the responsibility of leadership together.” Using a group of hikers roped together ascending a mountain as an example, he explains that, “if any one person in the chain slips, the chain holds him up so that he does not fall. What is implicit in this analogy is that everyone on the team needs to bring their own set of strengths, because if one member consistently fails to deliver value, he jeopardizes the entire team’s ability to make it to the top.
Expanding upon this analogy, besides respect and valuing the expertise of all involved, the OS students would point out that trust is foundational to collaboration, but is, again, not something easily achieved. Besides understanding that building strong social bonds and establishing credibility are pivotal, team members have to be aware that language, mental models and past experiences can hinder effective organizational collaboration because they can easily hide shared beliefs, values and ideas that enable team members to reach a common ground and achieve the team’s goal.
The stronger the working relationships and the more sincere the trust and willingness to risk, the more potential for dynamic, effective and creative collaboration.
To engage in this dynamic exploration of organizational collaboration check out the OS students’ workshop at the August RC (residential conference) based upon this conversation.