Collaboration is a common buzzword (especially in politics and advertising). It suggests creativity and innovation. Yet, we seem to mistake collaboration for something more unproductive: compromise. Compromise typically breeds dissatisfaction for all parties involved, but that is exactly how many of us collaborate.
With compromise, it works like this: we have a perspective on how to address a challenge. Because of that perspective, we have a certain solution in mind. Then, another group enters the room with their own perspectives, and now our solution must contend with theirs. While we may personally want the best for everyone, we mostly want our idea out there.
Maybe it’s ego. Maybe we truly believe our idea is the best solution. Nobly, we might feel that there is some truth to our solution and all it needs is a little tweaking, so we listen to their solution. There are parts that sound interesting and others that aren’t so appealing. So, we negotiate for some middle ground and we arrive at a solution that is neither ours nor theirs, but something that is half-baked from two dissenting solutions.
Therein lies the danger of compromise: being forced into a watered-down version of multiple solutions when they all may have been lacking in the first place.
Collaboration does not begin with the negotiation of solutions (or tactics). Collaboration begins in leaving your comfort zone to look at the problem from someone else’s perspective. In this place, we suspend our beliefs for just a moment. (Don’t worry, you can go back to your old viewpoint later.) For now, we’re going to look at a bigger picture. We’re going to walk around the problem a little more. We’re going to use multiple perspectives to help us navigate.
Once we have looked at the problems together we can begin discussing new solutions. Instead of negotiating, we’re searching. We’re not taking the ego of our “idea” and matching it against yours. We’re approaching the problem from a completely new vantage point.
Sounds easy, but there is a problem with collaborative problem solving – namely, many of us don’t know how to navigate it properly. Leaving the comfort of your perspective is not easy. And getting others to participate is sometimes an even bigger challenge. To overcome this tricky terrain, it helps to have a facilitator, at least for your first few journeys into better collaboration. In later entries we’ll look at this facillitation, but for now the main objective is to express the difference between these two approaches.
Ed. note: It may seem like I’m talking about arbitration of a conflict between two parties. While collaboration can certainly be used in conflict resolution, in such cases, it is much more difficult for people to let go of their perspectives. In the context of solving business issues or developing ideas is where true collaboration can flourish.