An update on an earlier blog post, composed to suggest a way that participants’ interests and energies could be engaged over the day and a half of a ThinkTank on topic X. That post was prepared after looking back at what happened (and didn’t) during a “thinktank” that went from evening of one day to lunchtime a day and a half later. This update follows a similar workshop of the same length and qualities (i.e., ample funding, a diverse group of inspiring participants brought together to move ideas into [further] action,…) Continue reading →
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.
Re-engagement—Respect, risk, and revelation combine so that participants’ gears are re-engaged (to use a machine metaphor), allowing us to mobilize and sustain quite a high level of energy during the collaboration. But re-engagement goes beyond an individual’s enhanced enthusiasm. It is a collective or emergent result of the activities that bring people who have generative differences into meaningful interactions that can catalyze transformations. In other words, meaningful social engagement and opportunities for personal introspection contribute to participants discovering new possibilities for work with others on ideas they brought to the collaboration.
inquire further on the issues that arise in our own projects.
select and focus on a subset of the specific plans or knowledge generated during the collaboration in our subsequent work.
engage actively with others.
inquire further into how we can support the work of others.
are reminded of our aspirations to work in supportive communities.
make the experiences of the collaboration a basis for subsequent efforts to cultivate collaborators.
arrange to assist or apprentice with the facilitator in a future collaboration.
(Of course, what we state in the end-of-collaboration evaluations cannot show that we will follow through on intentions to stay connected or to make shifts in our own projects and work relations. A need or desire for periodic re-charging of our ideas and intentions is evident when past participants return to subsequent collaborations.)
[See Introduction to this series of posts.]
Revelation—A space is created by respect and risk in which participants bring thoughts and feelings to the surface so as to articulate, clarify and complicate our ideas, relationships, and aspirations—in short, our identities. (Recall the principle that we know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge.) Our own self-understandings are extended when we are respectful partners with others in the risky business of self-exploration. In this spirit, we: Continue reading →
Risk—Respect creates a space with enough safety for participants to take risks of various kinds. In particular, we:
share knowledge we bring to the surface.
get to know more about each others’ not-yet-stable aspects.
share the experience of being unsure, but excitable and open to learn and to change.
make use of opportunities to reveal and remark upon oneself.
view the collaboration as a journey into unknown areas or allowing us to see familiar areas in a fresh light. (A journey involves risk; requires support; creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight; yields personal changes.)
ask for help and support during the collaboration.
are open to surprises and spontaneous insights emerging from interactions among people who were strangers beforehand.
expose our ideas and questions in one-on-one interaction with participants who have more experience and formal status.
allow ourselves to probe conclusions we began with.
accept uncertainty and instability—”What exactly is going to happen? What should I be doing?”—as the collaboration unfolds (even without an explicit agreement on where we are headed and without certainty about how to achieve desired outcomes).
stay in there when the process seems rough—not stepping back into the role of critic or consumer.
(In all these aspects of risk-taking, collaborations benefit from the participation of “veterans” who have participated in collaborations conducted along similar lines.)
An effective collaborator draws on many skills and dispositions, such as the qualities listed in the posts to follow. 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.
(Indeed, the list provides not only a checklist of qualities for cultivating collaborators, but also a checklist of conditions for organizers and facilitators to foster when running a collaborative process. Of course, we all find ourselves in some groups or teams where these conditions are not fostered. It is easy to fret over the shortcomings of our team leaders and colleagues. However, an antidote to fretting is for us to affirm the qualities below in our personal sphere and, more generally, to (re)claim space for our own creative pursuits.)
The list groups the qualities under four headings—Respect, Risk, Revelation, Re-engagement. (Note: An item under one heading may well contribute to the other headings.) The thinking behind these headings is, in brief, that a well-facilitated collaborative process keeps us listening actively to each other, fostering mutual Respect that allows Risks to be taken, elicits more insights than any one person came in with (Revelation), and engages us in carrying out and carrying on the plans we develop (Re-engagement). What we come out with is very likely to be larger and more durable than what any one person came in with; the more so, the more voices that are brought out by the process.
[These posts arose after teaching a two-day workshop on “Cultivating Collaboration” as part of a graduate course on “Creative Thinking, Collaboration, and Organizational Change. A colleague asked me to make explicit the skills of a collaborator that the students were supposed to be cultivating. In future years I plan not only to provide students with my list of skills and dispositions, but also make clear the following: The activities of the workshop lead participants into using some tools and processes, making connections with each other, and formulating contributions to the topic of cultivating ourselves as collaborators. To reinforce and extend this experiential learning students should:
review each activity to identify which of the listed collaborator skills and dispositions applied to the activity and to identify possibilities for further cultivation of these qualities;
read the supporting material on each tool or process so the design and goals of each activity could be appreciated and perhaps replicated;
build on the two steps above to formulate more systematic plans for practice and evaluation with an eye to improvement.]