Where would the world be if Orville & Wilbur Wright hadn’t knocked together their first rudimentary planes because they were simply too scared of what they didn’t understand? What would we have missed if Mick Jagger & Keith Richards’ management were worried about what people would think of their ‘un-Beatles-esque’ long hair and uncouth demeanour rather than simply hearing their music? And would Gotham City ever have been truly safe if Batman had never chosen to collaborate with Robin, instead electing to hog all the power and limelight for himself?
Unfortunately, being aware of the benefits of an action do not always equate to taking action. There can be many factors which stop us from taking steps which will ultimately benefit us and others. Success almost always involves negotiating these factors.
In today’s blog, with the help of Dilbert I would like to examine three frequently occurring barriers to collaboration with key external stakeholders outside our immediate team. These are barriers which are commonly identified by people within workshops I run, across many organisations. The great news is – there are solutions for all of them!
Reason No 1: Too strongly inwardly oriented as a team
For many individuals (and teams), being externally oriented is not a natural behavioural style. Collaboration involves reaching out, and extending an invitation to other parties who we identify as key partners where interdependencies must exist to achieve our goals. It can be daunting for many people to take the intitial steps of building new relationships, however it is essential that it be done. Identifying potential synergistic partners is only half the battle – we then must explore the collaborative potential that exists, and form a successful working relationship. For some, this is as natural as breathing and blinking. For others it’s very unnatural and quite a daunting challenge.
- “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” “Fear of” can often inhibit us taking action... fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of exposing our internal weaknesses, etc. They can’t possibly say ‘yes’ unless you ask, and are probably just as apprehensive as you about taking the initial steps. So...
- Take the first step – that’s the hardest one. “A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”. If we don’t reach out early to our external stakeholders we miss the opportunity to understand the big picture of where our team sits by discovering the perspectives of potential partners and the opportunity of building ties with people who will help determine our team’s ultimate success or failure.
- Use the power of partnerships. We all have our own individual character strengths which we have tendencies to play to. If acquiring new contacts and extending your networks are not part of your strengths, find someone around you with those talents and leverage those talents.
Reason No 2: Connecting and aligning with key external stakeholders
For individuals and/or teams who feel they are already operating at capacity, it can be daunting to consider what connotations may arise from entering into a collaborative relationship. A common feeling can be “We are already overloaded and struggling to keep our heads above water anyhow. Who needs more things to do?” And “even if we had the time to collaborate, it’s a confusing world out there. Where do we start to identify who we need to collaborate with and how do I determine when and why I need to prioritise working with them and not someone else?”
- Focus – what’s the big picture? Knowing where we fit in the big picture actually provides focus, enables us to prioritise, gives us clarity. It’s worth the upfront effort of ”looking-out to look-in” by connecting early with our key external stakeholders to get the pay-off of clarity, alignment and focus for me and my team.
- Be proactive and get on the front-foot. Take the initiative. Think of the end game – what does success look like? Generate that feeling of being in control by knowing where we are heading and how we fit as part of the larger scheme of things (proactive) rather than always chasing our tail and being driven by the immediate short-term demands/issues of others (reactive).
Reason No 3: The collaboration capability challenge
“You can't really (clarify who writes which song). It's not really true that I wrote all of one, and he wrote all of one when you get down to it. Keith and I might have had the initial idea, but after a while you can't separate who wrote it. We just sit down and do them, sometimes in the studio, sometimes at home.”
- Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones, 1976
The above quote is about the chemistry of one of rock music’s most successful song-writing duos in history. All the more interesting when you consider that for the best part of two decades, The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were barely friends, despite their success: "It was the beginning of the eighties when Mick started to become unbearable." (Richards). However this lack of personal connection didn’t prevent them from collaborating successfully over a long period to achieve musically and in business in a way that neither of them could have achieved independently, (which is the pimary reason for collaborating in any business endeavour.)
Often, it may seem dangerous to allow others access to your own information, experience, or expertise, as it can be uncertain what you will receive in return, or how what you bring to the table will be used. Potential collaborative endeavours must always be given their due diligence. This requires both a willingness (motivation) to partner and collaborative skills (competence) rather that scepticism and ‘hoarding’ of talents – a sure fire way to destroy collaboration.
- Change your mindset – abundance mentality vs scarcity or territorial approach
- Build trust – engage in dialogue, take some small steps towards collaboration, by making some agreements (actions) allowing mutual respect to be fostered between parties over time as you deliver on these commitments to each other.
- Look at life as an ongoing learning opportunity. There is much more to be gained than lost by collaborating
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I write this blogsite around topics which are all experiential in nature – themes which deal with the interactions of people, and how to increase the effectiveness of these interactions. If you have opinions and/or experiences related to the three barriers to collaboration I’ve written about, please share them below in the comments section. I always love to hear your thoughts and will respond where I feel appropriate.
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