Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Before You Climb the Collaboration Mountain: Identify Risks Upfront

I often work with groups of smart people who can’t collaborate. Why is it so difficult? There are, of course, multiple reasons, some of which have to do with individual egos, mindsets, skills, and behaviors, as well as a history of bad experiences in the past.

What I find most often is not a lack of good intentions or goodwill, or a surfeit of anti-collaboration behaviors, but a lack of awareness and respect for the causes of collaborative pain. Smart people believe that it should be relatively easy for them to come together and solve problems (after all they are smart), but often their expectations are dashed. Greater realism and awareness can empower people to collaborate by raising the level of risk alertness in the group.

Chris Huxman and Siv Vangen developed the concept of collaborative inertia, and they see it as happening when, “the output from a collaborative arrangement is negligible, the rate of output is extremely slow, or stories of pain and hard grind are integral to successes achieved.” (1)

Be alert to risks associated with:

·         Overly idealistic views that see collaboration as always desirable

·         Differences in organizational cultures, processes, tools, and policies represented in the group

·         Different interests and goals

·         Likelihood that benefits will only be realized long-term

·         Likely complexity of collaboration structures and processes

·         Likelihood of political maneuvering, game playing

·         Differences in professional languages, practices, and cultures

·         Differences in fluency of the group’s working language

·         Tensions and conflicts already existing between members (the burden of the past); lack of trust; competition for scarce resources

·         Sharp differences in power and authority levels

·         Pronounced skill level differences in using technology

·         Too little understanding and connection with key stakeholders, sponsors

·         Poor likelihood of maintaining group continuity

·         Collaboration fatigue among members

There will always be unknown risks and uncertainties, but with a greater awareness and respect for possible risks, a group can be more proactive and vigilant.

1.       Managing to collaborate: the theory and practice of collaborative advantage by Chris Huxham & Siv Evy Vangen.  Routledge, 2005.

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