Monday, May 20, 2013

Collaboration & consensus again...

It seems lots of folks are still in the collaboration vs. consensus debate. One friend remarked to me last week that many don't realize that consensus is the easy way out: you put in your vote and hold up the process until everyone agrees. Collaboration, she remarked, requires trust. Trust that:
  • You'll consider my idea before rejecting it
  • I will feel like I had input even if I don't agree with the final direction
  • You know what you're doing
  • We will jointly take responsibility regardless of dis/agreement along the way

Trust is tricky. We're required to give it - at least officially - in work environments. In personal situations, we can take a long time to offer trust. In work environments, folks are more reluctant to overtly express doubt and thus the real conversations are sidebars and the public conversations/meetings have a 'happy face' on them. Collaboration implies there are fewer sidebar conversations. Consensus implies we've all got CYA syndrome; until I'm sure I'm covered, you don't get my vote.

Maybe this is because both trust and collaboration require effort. It's easy to vote / offer an opinion. It's harder to make thoughtful contributions for which you're also willing to do the planning /details / work. It's hard to put yourself on the line, put ego aside, take on someone else's cause /project. It's really difficult to implicitly offer the promise that we'll fail or succeed jointly And I will follow your lead even when I think it's not the best path.

Perhaps trust is built through communication.

Recently, I was trying to collaborate for a project in my personal life. My project, my dollars, etc... so I had the final word but my collaborator had some great expertise. Well, my collaborator disagreed with all my requirements and made decisions without me, then would try to get my agreement after the fact or simply not be responsive to questions and requests. There was no real collaboration as no one was listening to me. We would meet and come to consensus and then nothing would change. The project faltered. My collaborator blamed everyone but himself. His inability to take responsibilty killed the final spark of collaboration I could muster. I know I should have set up stricter guidelines, better communication expectations and proper project protocol but I like a lot of rope to maneouver so I offer lots; usually it works out.

The project is now back on track with a new team who not only seem to collaborate well, they communicate. With more communication comes more trust.

We can't always immediately create trust within our project teams. We can't always restart projects. We can always communicate - from the beginning, through crises, to wherever the need takes us. Trust and collaboration may feel elusive but communication is always a ready skill to build a bridge.

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