Effective collaborators: Structural conditions vs. personal development

An exchange with a colleague leads me to note a contrasting “structural” approach on the issue of effective collaborators to the one presented in a recent series of posts, where I noted:

An effective collaborator draws on many skills and dispositions [listed in the posts].  We can cultivate these skills and dispositions through participation in suitable activities and through creative habits, such as always taking stock of what we did (and did not do) and planning ways to improve. Participants who cultivate themselves as collaborators can bring their skills and dispositions to any collaboration (or workshop, group process, etc.) they get involved in. To the extent that participants in a collaboration have been cultivating themselves as collaborators, the people organizing or facilitating the collaboration can expect their efforts to be more fruitful.

In contrast, a facilitator could create the conditions (or rules or structure or process) for collaboration, which facilitates participants being more collaborative without asking them to change their behavior—or having to draw explicit attention to the cultivation of collaborators.  There is a “which comes first, chicken or egg?” aspect to this, given that rules or structure or process work better when there are at least some participants who already have developed the skills and dispositions I list.  At the same time, one way to cultivate those skills and dispositions is through well-facilitated demonstration or real-life activities.

Nevertheless, people who write books on group process and facilitation, e.g., Senge et al. 5th Discipline Fieldbook, do not give much emphasis to the cultivation of collaborators.  Most weight is put on creating the conditions for collaboration among whoever signs up for or is roped into the group process a facilitator is leading.  (Readers should point me to works that disturb this assertion of mine.)  If a facilitator has confidence in handling all-comers, then it is simpler to set a small set of guiding themes, such as balance advocacy with inquiry, or start from concrete observables and don’t climb quickly up the ladder of inference.  My longer listing of skills and dispositions of effective collaborators would then seem unnecessarily complicated.  Let me just say, however, that I want some more eggs with my chickens.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

2 Responses to Effective collaborators: Structural conditions vs. personal development

  1. Annas says:

    Senge would be concerned with the fact that the conditions for developing the ‘five disciplines’ are disfavourable. ‘Personal mastery’ is at best a random process, one that is dependent on people; developing new ‘mental models’ seldom occurs in organizations; few have productive forms of ‘teach teaching’; and few develop common visions.

  2. Pingback: Cultivating Collaborators (Day 19 of Learning road trip) « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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