One of the greatest fallacies of the concept of collaboration is that there is usually, if not always, compromise involved. That in order to succeed one or all members of a collaboration must “give up something”. You know, take one for the team. “The Daily Undoing” action book defines collaboration as the “do well with others” competency. I was intentional in revising the colloquialism, “play well with others” because a) collaboration in a grown-up world is unfortunately rarely carried out in sandboxes, and b) “playing” suggests "game" in which there is a winner and a loser.
One of the greatest influences to my book, and easily the most frequently cited, was Stephen Covey’s landmark, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. The case could be made that each of Covey’s 7 habits are reliant upon collaboration, but habit 4, “Think Win-Win” puts this pillar competency in the drivers seat. In describing the “six paradigms of human interaction”, Covey brilliantly leads the reader to see the simple but obvious value of win/win (Covey, 1989). At the same time, Covey candidly reveals the rare cases where other paradigms prevail, their can be no mistaking that thinking win/win should be the optimal goal. And the verb is important here. Think win/win.
Entering into a situation where there will be interaction with another person, we make selfish mental assessments without evening knowing. “I’m going to have to give up something here”. “This is an excellent opportunity for me to gain something.” Thinking win/win, on the other hand is consciously catching yourself and swapping out the pronouns. “We might have to give up something here”, and “This is an excellent opportunity for us to gain something.” Now, the stickler reading this, and I love you for it by the way, will say, “wait a minute, this is supposed to be about winning, and here you are talking about sacrifice.” True. But can you think of a single success or victory in life that did not come without it? Of course participants in a collaboration will have to give up something. Some combination of time, treasure or talent will have to be given toward achieving the objective, but these come at mutual cost – not saddled by one participant alone.
As I’ve said many times before, I did not invent this concept of competency based education (although I am the first to write a book about the actual "competencies" required). Every level of government has its own interpretation of what constitutes a competency, and what are considered the indispensable competencies. Unsurprisingly, collaboration ends up on every list. The British Columbia provincial government’s curriculum guideline puts it this way:
People who collaborate effectively recognize how combining others’ perspectives, strategies, and efforts with their own enhances collective understanding, use, and impact. They value the contributions of group members, interact supportively and effectively using inclusive practices, and strive for shared commitment and mutual benefit. (Government of British Columbia, 2021)
You will walk into situations requiring collaboration of some sort later today, and every day of your life. Some will be pure happenstance, random and seemingly trivial, such as a chance encounter with a neighbor who needs help moving a heavy piece of furniture. Some will be large, complex and time consuming, like a project at work. Across this spectrum however, we should be facing these situations thinking win/win rather than “Oh God”.
What Covey was trying to say, and I agree, is that collaboration is more than an activity, it’s an attitude. A mindset. How will you set your mind next time a collaboration comes calling?
Here’s an action idea from my book to get you thinking.
Best wishes at being better.
Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon Schuster.
Government of British Columbia. (2021, August 21). Collaborate. Retrieved from British Columbia - BC's Curriculum: https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/competencies/communication/collaborating