Sunday, April 17, 2011

What Makes Collaboration Work? - Part 2

by Miki Kashtan

This piece is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

Telling the Truth with Care
The founder of a start-up company brought to the workshop the challenge he had about having a sales person whose judgment calls he doesn’t always trust. What can he do to move towards a collaborative experience with this employee?

Sometimes the most important thing about collaborating is truth telling. Often enough we avoid telling the truth because of fear of hurting other people. This is because we’ve been trained to believe that truth and care are mutually exclusive. Instead, I aim for truth with care. In order to find a way to shift the dynamics with the employee, I invited everyone at the workshop to imagine themselves being that employee, and what they would want to hear from the founder in such a situation. Within moments we came up with several ways to present the truth. One example: “I have some concerns about how you respond to some situations. I want us to work together well, and I want to support you in being successful in this job. Are you open to reviewing a few situations together so we can get more alignment around our priorities?”

More generally, whenever we have a difficult message to deliver, we can imagine being the other person, really and truly stepping into their proverbial shoes. From within that perspective we can often feel directly what would register as care, what’s necessary to say or highlight to make room for the truth to be digestible. It’s never about compromising the truth; it’s only about framing it in a context of collaboration.

Shared Ownership of Outcome
One young facilitator in a hi-tech area brought forward the challenge of having very acrimonious meetings, full of arguments and without any clear resolution. She was daunted by the prospect of navigating such a meeting to a collaborative spirit.

In polarized situations one key skill is particularly helpful – the ability to hear the dream, vision, value, need, or goal that is hidden behind the different opinions. For example, let’s say that we are in a meeting to evaluate two different software platforms, and someone says: “This product sucks. They haven’t been supporting it for years.” What I hear is that what’s important to this person is reliability in terms of tech support. Or if someone says: “It’s so boring, there’s nothing to it,” I hear that they want a product that’s innovative or has complex functionality. Why is this capacity important? Because moving towards something has more potential for getting people together than arguing about what’s not working.

Once we verify with each person that we got clearly what’s important to them, the next step is to generate one list with all that’s important. This, then, becomes the list of criteria to use to evaluate the product in this case, or to evaluate any proposal that’s on the table more generally. Key to the success of this approach is to create one list with the core qualities that are sought without any reference to the specific product, direction, or strategy that’s being discussed. What then happens is that the group can move to shared ownership of the list, an act which gradually de-polarizes the group and shifts it into an orientation of finding, together, a solution that meets as many of the criteria as possible. In that way we support collaboration even in a charged context.

Learning to Collaborate
Most of us have been raised to work alone and in competition with others. I have a lot of compassion and tenderness for our efforts to collaborate without having all the necessary tools, and I feel passionate about providing these tools. I can only do so much online through this blog. To move more clearly towards transforming our work lives and making collaboration be the norm in our society, I am collaborating with a group of other NVC trainers to create the Making Collaboration Real retreat and optional yearlong program that’s starting next month.

As part of our vision, we want to transform the way businesses deal with money, and we are committed to modeling this transformation in our own practice around money. Now that the curriculum for the program is ready, I am itching to make this unique opportunity available to more people. If you are drawn to participate in this retreat or program and cost is the only reason you would not attend, please read our brief philosophy about money, and contact us to talk about how to make attendance at this program possible for you.

The depth and level of detail of the curriculum leave me in awe about how much is needed in order to make collaboration work. I am so excited to have a coherent and systematic way that collaboration can be taught, experienced, and practiced. I have confidence that with focus and dedication we can all master the art of collaboration at all levels.