Wednesday, October 02, 2013

How to make collaboration more than the sum of its parts

The best collaboration gets almost magical results.  Working together, people produce ideas that no one would have generated working alone and everyone discovers that their skills are a fit for one another and for the task.

Yet we all have experiences of collaboration that are much less than the sum of the parts, times when we have worked with others and been less inspired and less effective than we would have been on our own.  An NLP approach to the problem is to ask: what's the difference? What makes collaboration work?

It may be that focus is the difference that makes the difference. Groups that focus on developing a shared outcome and a shared state might be more effective than groups that focus on the problem they are solving or the task they want to complete. One of the things we know for sure is that states are easily transferred from one group member to another and that the strongest state in the group is the one that is likely to dominate.

Groups that focus on what they want to achieve together (not how they will do it) are likely to do two things: they put themselves in a bigger frame, which means that they have more perspective on whatever problem or frustration is the current subject. And they are likely to access states associated with achievement: it's just easier to maintain a positive state with your eyes fixed on the goal on the horizon. The advantage of a group is that the collective focus on outcome supports both focus and state in every member. People walk away feeling more confident that the problem can be solved and more safe in their efforts to solve it.

The primary role of collaboration is not to generate ideas.  The primary role of collaboration is to generate focus and a useful state in each member of a group.  The ideas are a secondary benefit that may only appear when individuals work alone after connecting with the group. This is why it is important to balance individual work with team work when approaching problems that require creativity. The creativity appears when people work alone, but it might be planted and nurtured by conversation and interaction with a group focused on the same outcome and willing to support useful states in one another.

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