Mixed feelings about the collaboration? welcome to the club

When collaborations fall apart, frustrations rise.

Source: Steve Johnson/Unsplash

What three words or phrases best describe your thoughts and feelings about collaboration?

I ask this question at the start of my collaboration workshops, on social media to generate interesting discussions, individuals when applying to join my online community, and strangers asking what I do for a living.

Fun fact: most people share a mix of positive and negative words and phrases.

Along with positive descriptors such as “comradeship,” “essential,” “transformational,” “rewarding,” and “game changer,” there are also a host of negative descriptors that suggest, at times, that collaboration absolutely sucks.

Descriptors like: Difficult. Messy. Friction. He does not exist. Much easier said than done. Long. Easy to do in a limited way, hard to do well.

People don’t do what they say they’re going to do. Misunderstandings cause people to pull in different directions. Conflict-averse collaborators undermine the process by stepping aside instead of having honest conversations that could help build alignment. Ego and logos get in the way.

While collaboration is brimming with potential and can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be an incredible burden, ripe with headaches and heartache.

welcome to the club

If you also have mixed feelings about the collaboration, welcome to the club.

Many of us want to collaborate. And, we want to be good collaborators.

Maybe we appreciate the spirit of collaboration. Or it’s something that we believe will further our personal and professional goals. Or maybe it’s something we know our employers expect us to do well.

But then, when we actually try to collaborate, it’s often a messy, complicated, endless struggle. We need to talk about this struggle.

Yet, culturally, there are a lot of messages floating around about collaboration as a combination of bee’s knees, sliced ​​bread, the end of the world, and the right solution for every challenge. Many people seem to have absorbed this cultural zeitgeist for collaboration in the absence of learning how to do it well. It’s like trying to assemble an IKEA chest of drawers without the instructions.

Put the H in Collabor(h)ate

Some collabs can really, really suck.

I want to talk about it. I want it to be okay to say out loud, “Agh, this whole thing about playing well with other people is a huge sore spot.” I want to give permission to anyone who is skeptical of rah-rah collaboration messages to say: Hold on. I see it differently. Let’s take a look at what’s not working here so we can figure out how to fix it.

I want us to talk about this: collaboration can be very difficult, especially considering that very few of us receive substantial training in how to do it well. I don’t think we give each other permission to say yes, it sucks. Or: What the hell is happening?

Let’s give voice to the H in collaborate(h)ate. Silencing it means we miss crucial opportunities to learn what we and our colleagues are struggling with; we thus obscure the paths that could make this collaboration much more positive for many more people.

Understanding the interpersonal dynamics at play and designing our collaborations accordingly means we can make collaborations more productive, sustainable, enjoyable and healthy. The first step in this direction is to understand why collaborations are so difficult in the first place.

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