Four Perspectives on Collaboration.

By Dr. Wanda Wallace


As we wrap up 2019, I thought I would share 4 perspectives on a very critical topic for the coming year: Collaboration. It is what every organization aspires to achieve and what the complexity of work demands. It is so easy to say “be collaborative” and so very difficult to do in practice. 


I think the four perspectives below hold an essential part of the secret to actually being more collaborative. All four are from podcast guests in 2019. Here’s what I thought was key in each.

  1. Leaving people feeling less fear makes a huge difference to creating a collaborative environment. Teams succeed when we remove the fear individuals feel about sharing ideas, concerns and questions. As a leader, you can diminish fear by 1) setting a clear agenda about why the effort matters to all of us along with expectations about not getting everything right, 2) asking questions like “If we do this, what might happen?” and 3) responding productively to bad news. Amy Edmondson, Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth, https://bit.ly/2XPoHW4.

  2. The non-verbal signals we send to others matters more than the words. Four non-verbal signals are at the heart of all human and animal communication. These four, according to Sandy Pentland, cannot be faked. They are: 1) Conveying Energy and enthusiasm, 2) Mimicking or signalling agreement, 3) Consistency or Fluidity in the flow of speech when you are confident in your knowledge and 4) Controlling the flow of a conversation. Combinations of these four invite collaboration. In collaborative teams, everyone contributes the same amount, each person follows every other person in no set sequence, energy votes up/down ideas, consistency indicates what really matters. Sandy Pentland, Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World, bit.ly/2JHAuj4.

  3. We know cultures differ and we usually get fascinated with these differences. Highlighting difference though doesn’t yield collaboration. A willingness to meet somewhere in between or to accommodate differences does. Michele Gelfand, Rule Makers and Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World, https://bit.ly/33zvAcX, notes a single difference that is very powerful and leads to a way to accommodate. Tight cultures set tight rules and punish those who break them. They thrive under threat and when there is too much chaos. Loose cultures accept diversity and allow for more autonomy. Does your team need to have more structured looseness or more flexible tightness? Collaborative cultures are both tight and loose.

  4. Sometimes the people you need to collaborate with are not people you trust or like. They may even be people with whom you adamantly disagree. Adam Kahane, Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree With, Like or Trust, bit.ly/2sUuzvV, shows how to collaborate with the enemy. You can agree on what to do next even if you disagree on why. Start with the belief that everyone has a piece of understanding that is relevant to the issue at hand. Then experiment early, fail fast and fail forward. Create opportunities to listen and to discover something interesting about each other.

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