Annie Shelmerdine Eating

The year of collaboration and it can change the world….

Collaboration changes the world but for this to happen we need to loosen our grip on solely the outcomes of the task, and prioritise listening to and responding to the mood – and spend time attending to both. This is the nitty gritty of collaborative process (the devil’s in the detail of course!) which can seem challenging with a deadline looming.
In my work with organisations I frequently hear about the desire for teams to collaborate more – as there are tangible benefits such as diversity of opinion, cross fertilisation of practice, creativity, and generating a whole system approach, to name a few. But to truly reap the benefits we need to adjust our gaze to the area of communication and the willingness to navigate tensions inherent in a group.

This year I attended some exceptional collaboration training programs and encountered two models I’d like to share. The first, based on the Art of Hosting framework, was Groundwork and the Nature of Organising (James Ede and Rowan Simonsen). This offers a strategic quadrant map, with ‘need/purpose’ at the centre, encased by strategic, structural, practical and cultural.

What was fascinating to me is that they highlighted that most collaborations collapse within the cultural quadrant. Which reminds me of that legendary quote – ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’!

Of course, there will always tensions between being task focussed (strategy) or mood focussed (culture) – and both have value in the overall success – but normally one gets more focus – and guess which?!

The second model, the Ten Directions model, shows that invariably, group dynamics move from the desire to bond (sameness) to disconnection (difference) – and moving into difference creates a tension in all of us. These two states are both important and at the centre of culture. And if we desire cohesion, connection and creativity, we need to accept that we have to continually move between these two states (Moving communication anyone?!).

And the quality of the culture you create will be heavily influenced by the quality of communication practices embedded within your team/group dynamics. Good practices will eventually generate or undermine trust and cohesion. To facilitate and navigate through this creative tension takes time and sensitivity as it means you must attend to interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics. This often raises discomfort so it takes courage, skill and vulnerability to navigate these dynamics.

Over 2019 I have collaborated with a range of people on different projects and the more we practiced these principles (between sameness and difference) to develop our culture, the more trust and cohesion we maintained. Some practices we found helpful included:


Create a practice of check in on an emotional and task base.
Establish ground rules for communication.
Acknowledge power and control issues, and
Discuss how to navigate these – agree on what are you willing or not to share.

Listen to your senses – what do you feel in your body?
Pause the communication when you feel tension.
Breathe and keep breathing into tension.
Acknowledge and name emotions.
Frame how you feel with ‘I’ language rather than ‘You’ language.
Listen with curiosity, and
Repeat what you have heard and check in that is what was meant
I hope you are able to bring this into your work in 2020. It does take time to do this well – and can seem challenging (remember we are trying to move our focus between task and mood) – but the project team, and outcome, will be enhanced.

And the more you practice this, the easier and faster it becomes to navigate.

This Post Has 2 Comments
    1. Thanks Brian, I appreciate your appreciation! I have been focused elsewhere but now am back to getting focused on how we move communication, so stay in touch. Johanna

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