Art of Collaboration – Thinking Differently

Getting a project done requires diverse teams and collaboration on many levels. How do we work well across distributed teams with competitors and suppliers?

Each team can be made up of people split geographically and culturally and even competitively. Some of whom you may never meet in person and will almost certainly think differently to the way you think.

Win - Win Collaboration
Win – Win Collaboration

One of the habits of highly successful people is cultivating the “win-win” approach to any endeavour. More and more it is not just working within your organisation but it involves working outside your organisation, with suppliers and even competitors to deliver the project.

Collaborative Intelligence

I like Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur thesis in their book Collaborative intelligence which talks about a shift from a world where rivals fight for market position and one where they share ideas. In a world where ideas are more important than things, one of the key skills to develop is collaboration.

The sharing of ideas or mind share economy does not mean doing away with traditional market share forces it just means learning to compete and collaborate and share ideas with a win-win mindset.

The things we give our attention to…

In the book “Collaborative intelligence” the authors propose some helpful ideas about how to work together collaboratively.

Firstly by understanding how our attention guides our thought processes, throughout our working day. There are actually three types of attention that we need to be consciously aware of:

  • Focused attention – Sometimes we need to just focus on one particular activity i.e writing an email, planning your day, reflecting on your goals.
  • Sorting attention – Which involves weighing up different options. Your brain takes all the ideas evaluates each one and concludes which is going to be most suitable. i.e. determining priorities
  • Open attention – Being completely aware of everything. Allowing you to access memories, images, and ideas while producing new insights and thoughts for instance when you are rethinking ways to solve an old problem.

Think of a lemon

Secondly, recognizing how different people process information to come up with solutions. When you think of a lemon, what do you think of first? Do you think of the shape? the colour? or the smell? Everyone has a preference for how they absorb or process information, some people process by talking, others need to think/reflect and others need to do write things down or sketch out ideas on paper.

That is important when you are in meetings where one person is verbally dominating the discussion. How do you get the less verbally confident to engage? One strategy might be to suggest everyone goes for a walk to get people moving.

“Collaborative intelligence is the measure of your ability to think with others on behalf of what matters to us all.

To access that intelligence we must learn to dignify differences in how we think and use them to face complex challenges.”

– Collaborative Intelligence

Market or mind share economy?

Working in technology-focused companies, I am seeing more of a trend to collaborative working between major industry players. The key unique selling point between competitors is becoming more indistinct but also the problems can only be solved by collaboration.

The successful companies are going to be the ones that innovate and evolve new product offerings. Think of Netflix transformation from a DVD rental service to an online streaming service. As compared to the demise of their key competitor Blockbuster. Or services like AirBNB which are outselling room rentals compared to Hotels all over the World without owning a single room. They simply thought of the problem of renting a room in a different way by collaborating with people’s emtpy room and need to earn additional income.

The trend for collaborative working is set to continue. While the market share economy seeks to dominate a particular industry or product the mind share economy is about how we can share ideas to create Win-Win situations for each company.

When we share ideas we can spark another thought in someone else and together come up with a better solution than we would have on our own. The inherent blind spots we all have can be helpfully observed by talking to someone with a counter perspective. We shouldn’t be trying to outdo our colleagues but listen and learn from them. Allowing each member of the team to blossom and produce their best work for the good of the whole project.

A key trait in any successful project delivery is going to be collaborative skills, so what does that mean in practice?

People-focused delivery

Good Collaborative practice is essentially knowing how to work well with others. By combining what we give attention and focus to, and being aware of how people around us process information and contribute to the solution of problems.

  1. Mind Patterns: Understand how your brain thinks: How we think, learn and communicate is the first consideration. Such as being self-aware of how you process information. I am more of a thinker, whereas my Wife is more of a verbal reasoner. When we are making decisions together I prefer to think about things on my own whereas she likes to talk through her reasoning with me. But together we end up making better decisions.
  2. Thinking patterns: What energises you/Burns you out: Ever been in a meeting that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. One reason might be we are not on the same “wavelength” as other people in the meeting. Discover how you best solve problems. Do you need to go away and think about it, sketch out something on a whiteboard, have a stand-up meeting or even go for a walking meeting? Your thinking patterns affect what lights you up and what motivates you and equally what burns you out. So next time you are in a meeting like that be brave and suggest everyone get’s up and move around or has something to eat!
  3. Inquiry: Identifying the natural way you approach a challenge: We all have natural blind spots in our thinking. Having to work in diverse teams challenges how we solve problems. Working with people who are different from us gives a stronger outcome to the problem. Don Clifton spent 40 year researching the skills of the best of the best, in order to capitalize on them. He identified the common characteristics of successful people. He showed that for most people have five dominant talents out of 34 potential talents. Broken down into four main areas: Relationship building, influencing, strategic thinking and executing. Everyone has a unique set of talents. It’s well worth doing the Clifton strength test to identify and understand your own talents. This test has now been used by more than 22 million people.
  4. Mind share: Never stop learning from each other – This is the mind share economy, if we tap into the above three points then we can develop effective thinking that covers the blind spots. We need to take responsibility for self-knowledge and self-improvement. Today there is no excuse not to learn. Most people carry smartphones with access to search engines and learning platforms. If you want you can teach yourself a new skill, become familiar with new technology all very easily. The answer is literally in the palm of your hand.

Everyone has different ways of thinking, questioning and approaching challenges. We need to adapt and figure out the best way to collaborate and solve complex problems in innovative ways.

What is your experience of collaboration or competition in the workplace? Do you see the trend one way or other? I’d be interested to know your thoughts below.

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