July 27, 2011 2 Comments
Another way to express this is to ask: “How do people become skilled and effective in contributing to collaborations? How do we lead others to develop their interest and skills in collaboration?” Implicit in these questions is the idea that being able to contribute to collaborations is not something that can be taken for granted. Instead, people need to learn, practice, and improve at it. “People” includes each of us. Once we get in the swing of cultivating ourselves as collaborators, we can help foster the interests of others in developing their skills.
“Cultivate” focuses attention on the process of improving as a collaborator, not on the endpoint. When we cultivate plants we have an endpoint in mind, say, a good yield of tasty tomatoes or a vibrant array of colors of zinnias, but we know very well that there are many tasks between the end of winter and the harvest.
Consider this analogy with playing soccer. You certainly know the goal, namely, to get the ball in the goal. You watch a number of wonderful soccer games and some woeful ones, so you know what it looks like to be a player in a good soccer team. Amazingly, the national team’s coach happens to be best friends with one of your neighbors from college days and has agreed to coach a group of you in the off-season. Alas, this neighborhood team doesn’t end up playing very well. It turns out that although you all know what a good team’s play looks like and couldn’t ask for a better coach, you need to spend time developing your personal and interpersonal skills as soccer players. You need to get fit, to get over your fears from having been injured in the past, to practice 1-touch, 2-touch, and dribbling skills, to learn the ways that other team members tend to hold onto the ball or to slice it when passing, to get used to the various positions or zones on the field, to express your emotions with sympathetic friends after being balled out by the coach, and so on. Now, many of these skills you can practice by yourself or in small groups outside of the context of a soccer game. And, when you do get to implement them in a game, you can take stock of how it went and make plans for what to focus on in preparing for the next game.
So it is with collaborations. You may know what is supposed to happen in a good collaboration (or some person or book may tell you), but there is plenty of room to cultivate yourself as a collaborator without focusing on the specific collaborations—good or bad—you may be part of now or in the future. Moreover, just as there is plenty that soccer players can do to develop themselves without thinking about being the coach, there is plenty a collaborator can do to prepare for collaborating without imagining themselves in the role of the designated facilitator of the collaboration.
“Cultivate” is also meant to steer our thinking away from prescriptions to more individualized pathways. Just as each task in the garden could, in principle, be described and each preparation in the soccer training spelled out, we could lay out the skills to be cultivated as a collaborator. But that does not mean the end result should be the same or we can say what path any particular person should best take. In this spirit, a workshop on “cultivating collaboration” might: get the participants acquainted with a range of tools and processes; try to make the experience one that stimulates the participants to practice and experiment with the tools and processes and to evaluate, reflect on, and learn from the experience; and convey the expectation participants build a tool kit relevant to their own personal and professional background and challenges.
(See http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/CultivatingCollaboration for the context in which this question arose, namely, a 2-day workshop on Cultivating Collaborator.)