February 24, 2018

Giving the same as we have received

Group in discussionSome collaborative endeavours depend rather exactly on us giving in equal measure to what we have received. Yet, it’s easy to forget this.

In one example…

Participants in a workshop gain from the patience and support of other attendees while they are the focus of the group and, of course, the workshop leader. In that moment, the leader of the group will likely have a commitment to ensuring that that individual learns what they need to learn—or at least they should have.

Once our turn is over, it’s too easy to forget that we gained from the attention and support of the others present when we were the focus. And to forget that we owe that same attention to those who have waited patiently for their turn.

Instead the emails beckon.

I notice this as a workshop leader… It’s a strong group that has as much commitment to every single person’s outcome as I do; it’s a strong group that realises they will get the most out of the session if they have the same commitment to others’ learning as they do to their own.

The most beneficial outcome often depends on us giving the same as we have received. Even when our turn is already past.

Courteous co-operation and single track roads

Road with passing placesSometimes revisiting a simpler way of life reminds us of important things: Take single track roads with passing places, for example…

(We have these in Scotland, especially on the islands, but maybe not in your part of the world, I know.)

In case you’ve never experienced this…

To cope with the road not being wide enough for two cars to pass, “passing places” are built every so often. A degree of consideration and collaboration between converging drivers is required so that one pulls into the space at the side to let the other pass, possibly waiting briefly for the oncoming vehicle, all in a manner that optimises journey times for everyone.

And of course, it’s considered courteous to wave thanks, and perhaps also to acknowledge thanks from the other.

The system requires this degree of co-operation (and a little more) to work and for everyone to benefit. And you know… we probably feel good about playing our part—giving as well as taking.

Back in the city…

Our lives are perhaps more competitive—faster paced.

So there’s less need for that kind of courteous co-operation.

Or is there?

If we’re serious about collaboration…

Three people, two shaking handsEveryone seems to want autonomy at the moment—well, perhaps not quite everybody.

The trouble is…

Complete autonomy means no influence.

If we’re serious about collaboration, we have to share power. We have to accept we won’t get our way on everything.

If we want some influence, we might have to give up on some autonomy.

We might even have to give away some power, to gain some influence, though, of course, we’ll want to retain as much of both as possible.

As with many things…

It’s all a balance.

Demanding and accommodating

Three senior managers talkingIt’s good to be accommodating. It helps make a reality of collaboration and getting a group of people working together.

Sometimes though…

We need to be demanding.

Some roles involve directing an organisation on behalf of stakeholders of one kind and another. At times, that means asking clearly for what we want. That’s both the nature of the job, and the culture expected of the people involved—a shared value, if you like.

Different sectors have different expectations about the balance between being demanding and being accommodating.

Where’s the right point for you—soft or hard, or somewhere in between?

Good to be clear about this, perhaps even to flex a little, depending on the circumstances—on which tribe you’re with at the time. Or don’t expect to fit everywhere. That’s fine too.

Brinksmanship: A relationship skill?

Hotel meeting roomWe rather admire the ability of the tough negotiator; the one who secures a favorable outcome at the last minute when the other side blinks first.

Perhaps that’s a component of a versatile skill set; part of the rough and tumble of public or private life, strangely somehow contributing to the bond between the people involved. It certainly sometimes seems that way.

And yet…

Brinkmanship precludes the collaboration that might lead to a creative solution; an outcome that is more than the sum of the parts. If the last minute is all we ever have, how can we generate something new?

Perhaps we can aspire to something more than brinksmanship.

Perhaps the mark of the true leader is taking us beyond confrontation and creating the space for new solutions to emerge.

What do you think?

Is our instinctive, defensive response to competition the right one?

When the going gets tough, when markets contract, when budgets decline, when promotion is rare, our instinctive response is to retreat and defend what we have. Parts of our brain that kept us alive in a more dangerous world respond vigorously to the threats we perceive. They compel us to withdraw from any circumstance where we could be vulnerable, such as a situation where we share our knowledge and resources in collaborating with another.

This response to threat can be so strong it’s barely a conscious process at all. The strength of our defensive reaction leaves us with a certainty that it’s unquestionably the right one.

But is it? Does our hasty retreat from collaboration serve us?

Perhaps the most effective response to scarcity and threat is the exact opposite, to collaborate, to share what we have, to form new teams, to focus on our strengths, and allow others to do on our behalf what they do best, even though that requires sacrifice. Then the whole may succeed on the bigger stage and our individual outcome may be better than if we’d acted alone.

Suppose it does serve us to collaborate: How do we make this happen? How do we take our people along with us?

One key is articulating a compelling future so that the long term gain seems worth the short term pain.

We need high levels of integrity and to seek that quality in others. To be trusted and so involved in the best opportunities, we need to be seen as a mature and honest collaborator.

We need the skills to work intelligently with the interests and values of all and balance these to optimise the whole for the ultimate gain of all.

Are our defensive responses to increased competition with colleagues, other departments, other organizations, other countries, the responses that should guide us? Or are we better to resist our primitive instincts and collaborate rather than defend? And if so, how?

How do you respond to competition?