Real collaboration requires that we get messy — asking new questions, questioning what we know, and putting aside our urge to get things done. It takes time to think together, letting thoughts meander, listening to different people share stories and ideas that may or may not be directly related to the topic at hand. It takes recognition that thinking is acting.
Learning to collaborate has been a long and challenging journey for me, a former Type A, “let’s get it done now” kind of person. While I’m open minded I’m also skeptical, a paradox that many executives share.
But having experienced what can happen when people check their egos at the door and open their minds to “structured unstructured” collaboration has been transformational for me. And, believe me, that “transformational” word is one I rarely use. The outcomes can make such a difference to company success that I now dedicate much of my client work on facilitating strategic collaborative processes for complex organizations and companies.
With every workshop I’m reminded that the most creative, strategic answers come from people within a company. Not outside management consulting firms or the latest best selling business book author. The secret is guiding people through a messy process where they are able to talk about questions that rarely get talked about, with people in the company that they rarely have the time or opportunity to talk with in any meaningful way.
A great article on the messiness and value of collaboration, “Collaboration: The Courage to Step into a Meaningful Mess,” was published this month by Alycia Lee and Tatiana Glad over at the Berkana Institute. Here are a few of the authors’ key points that especially resonated with me:
- We are so driven to attain results that we often bypass one of the key components of creativity: the ability to question what we think we know.
- Sole motivation to meet goals and generate outcomes comes with a sacrifice — deflated creativity.
- Cooperation comes when people work to share ideas, whereas collaboration is that magic moment when we take a step beyond the individual needs (financial gain, meeting objectives) and co-create from a higher shared value, when you realize “we can’t NOT do this.” That shared value moves the process forward to generate new possibilities.
One last thought. It seems that every CEO in the world talks about innovation as a strategic priority, but few are pushing their companies to work in new ways to be innovative.
The secret is simple: step into messy collaboration that asks the big questions and involves diverse people far beyond the C-suite.