So we developed a model for collaboration, but what we found when talking and working with people was that the model didn’t explain ‘how’ you go setting up a strong collaborative approach. The model has a set of principles and a step by step guide, however it is possible to simply jump from one step to the next stating that’s it’s all been done in collaboration! Of course we all start out with the best of intentions, but often deadlines and the sheer logistics of getting everybody in a room take over and decisions end up being made a little less together than was agreed at the beginning of a project.
A lot of our thinking about collaboration has been influenced by some of the ideas in the film below. The language it uses to describe collaboration is really helpful when reflecting on whether a project has been worked through collaboratively. The film explores terms such as:
- Collaborative Inertia – the natural state of play where nothing happens, meeting and meetings
- Collaborative Advantage – Keeping the collaborative group moving and continuing to work productively
- Structure – getting the right people in the room
- Process – focus on how the right people in the room then communicate with each other
- Constitutive communication – how we understand each stakeholders point of view and find the similarities
Each of the tools below are useful for any group to be aware of a they provide and group vocabulary and agreement on ‘how’ we will work together, and ‘how’ we will communicate. A group being aware of these tools means that they can comment on the process of collaboration, which helps with things like power imbalance in a group.Debate vs Dialogue
This video is a brief introduction to the differences between “Debate” and “Dialogue” and which style may be more beneficial when working with others.
- Debate assumes that there is one answer and that you have it.
- Dialogue assumes that many people have a part of the answer.
- Debate tries to prove others wrong.
- Dialogue tries to work with others to find common understanding.
- Debate listens to find flaws and make counter arguments.
- Dialogue listens to understand and seek agreement.
- Debate defends assumptions as truth.
- Dialogue reveals assumptions for examination.
- Debate seeks closure around own view.
- Dialogue seeks to discover options.
It is an essential component of coming together and working collaboratively and if a member of the partnership is unable to work in this way you can slip into other modes of working which are non-collaborative – see the Thomas-Kilmann model.
In the video below, Jonathan briefly explains Appreciative Inquiry.
This is a useful video supporting Appreciative Inquiry, and quite fun!
This film is a really clear explanation of the theory. It’s also worth mentioning Amanda Riding’s book Pause for Breath which develops on this theory and gives you the opportunity for some more in-depth personal reflection.
It’s worth taking a look at Kantor’s book ‘Reading the Room’, but for those with slightly less time here is a short summary of the first aspect of the 4 Player model.
Below is the ‘Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument’. The group should be aware of this model and it should form the partnership’s collective learning. It is a useful tool when considering which tasks need to be done collaboratively or not.
Are there any other tools or theories you’ve used to work collaboratively? Get in touch with us to let us know!
Some practical learning from our experience:
- It’s always important to explain the principles of collaborative working to the group, in order that you all agree to move the project forward in this way. Introduce Debate versus Dialogue, this is often a useful starting point.
- Everybody should introduce themselves and what they would like the group to achieve; in short why are you here? This starts to understand everybody’s values and you can then identify shared aims and goals
- Always think about breaking larger groups into smaller groups, this helps less dominant people in the room be heard during discussions
- Role model how the group should behave, refer to Debate versus Dialogue or point out when a ‘Move’ has been made (4 Player model). And remember keep it judgemental!
- Allow space for the group to get to know each other socially, this is how strong relationships are formed and the work will need these
- Highlight ‘Action Bias’ early – groups often run to solutions or actions, that is assuming we know what the problem is and how to fix it.
- Two leaders is helpful as a minimum; one to project manage and keep the pace, the other to check the group is managing to work collaboratively, or identify when it’s not and for the group to be ok with this.
- Words build worlds – create a collective understanding using the vocabulary that comes from the group
- Always reflect in pairs after each meeting. were there problems with the process? How collaborative did it feel? What needs to happen next time in order for the group to feel meaningful?
In our time working collaboratively, we’ve come across, and have been recommended by others, a number of different books that further explore elements of collaboration and tools that help make it happen.
- Leading Groups Online: a down and dirty guide to leading courses, meetings, trainings and events during the coronavirus pandemic
- The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor – very accessible and gives really helpful information and stories/case studies on how we frame problems in our mind. Useful book if you’re wanting to explore Appreciative Inquiry.
- Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders. Author: David Kantor
- Managing to Collaborate: The Theory and Practice of Collaborative Advantage. Authors: Chris Huxham and Siv Evy Vangen
- New Power; how anyone can persuade, mobilize, and suceed in our chaotic, connected age. Authors: Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms
- Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. Author: Dr Spencer Johnson
- The Patient Revolution; how we can heal the healthcare system. Author: David Gilbert
- From Contempt to Curiosity: Creating the Conditions for Groups to Collaborate Using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling. Author: Caitlin Walker
- Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. Author: Nancy Kline
- Our Iceberg is melting. Authors: Dr. John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber