The challenge of collaboration starts within the collaborative group. They work together, conversing, cooperating and building collective trust. They agree on mutual goals. All of that takes time and in the process, the group develops a strong alignment, reacting to events with certainty. With deep collaboration, there’s no longer a need to verify everything. As a result, decisions get taken faster, and more independently, “That’s what I would have done” is common, and “Why did you do that?” rare. From the inside, it feels safe, connected, certain, and effective. It’s powerful. It creates tremendous team spirit and speed.
The Outside View
From the outside, though, it can look quite different, cliquey, even conspiratorial. When people interact with any of the collaborative team they get the same response, politics doesn’t work. When difficult issues hit the collaborative team the decisions in the project are taken quickly. As a result of collective action, workflow accelerates in ways that leave those outside the group scrambling to understand both what has happened, and to catch up.
In a previous, complex, project I oversaw the creation of two collaborative groups. They both were working very effectively and delivering change in two different workstreams. Whilst they both worked brilliantly on their own contexts, where there needed to undertake joint work, each group viewed the other with some suspicion. Only when we brought both together and surfaced the issues did we see the dangers for any collaborative group of being insular.
Deep collective understanding is opaque to those outside the group. Breaking down the appearance of a clique means deliberately making elements of what you do transparent to the outside as well. That’s even more important if your teams are separate, yet needing to work closely together.
Have you ever been involved in a project or part of an organisation, yet felt like an outsider? It’s far more likely that was because there were established collaborative relationships than a deliberate intention to exclude. Strong collaborations puts boundaries around the people involved. Yet we can take action to break down those barriers and welcome newcomers more effectively. When you have done that well, what did you do, and what difference did it make?