When you look up the meaning of the word collaboration you get two results – “traitorous cooperation with an enemy” and “the action of working with someone to produce something” – the apparent opposite nature of these definitions fitted well with my choice of topic for this comment.
I was left thinking to what extent does the former drive out the latter and prevent our very best outcomes from emerging?
In Margaret Heffernan’s wonderful TED talk titled Dare to Disagree, I was reminded again of the power of conflict.
Do we sometimes fear conflict? Even avoid conflict? For individuals, teams and organisations to really thrive we need to embrace conflict, work with it and allow it to drive the best change we can make.
As Heffernan says so eloquently, we need “more than openness to facilitate and bring about change, openness is just the beginning”. Leaders and their teams need to be prepared to have the difficult conversation and think of conflict as a constructive process of creative decision making and lean into the conflict.
The job of managers and leaders is to make this OK… to help themselves and others to think with skill, to dare to speak with acknowledgement and positive intent, to make it safe and to have the moral courage to say what needs to be said.
“Great leaders don’t solve their problems with the same thinking that was used to create them”. (Einstein)
Weiss and Hughes (HBR 2005) go as far to say that “the quest for harmony and common goals can actually obstruct teamwork. Managers get truly effective collaboration only when they realise that conflict is natural and necessary”. When we try to ‘split the difference’ we stop the creative process and miss the opportunity to create something bigger, better and truly novel.
I firmly believe that organisations can really thrive if they foster this thinking, starting with the senior leadership team role modelling collaboration at its very best – to show they really care about diversity of thinking and use a process which has listening, constructive thinking and building on strengths at its heart.
Why do we struggle? Because it’s hard to: –
- Begin from a place of curiosity and respect, and stop worrying about being liked
- Focus on what you’re hearing, not what you’re saying
- Be direct, in the moment
- Expect a positive outcome
(Joel Garfinkle – HBR Digital article March 2017)
It can start with you though! Where is your head on this one? … and what can you do today to embrace conflict and truly collaborate?