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Keeping a Collaboration on Track

By our definition, a collaboration is strategic. It involves a team of people moving toward a shared outcome along a pathway that they define.

A collaboration is not networking. That is simply exchanging information. A collaboration is not coordination or cooperation.  These involve sharing resources or aligning individual actions.  All of these steps – – networking,  coordination, cooperation – –   can work up to a collaboration. They are preliminary stages.

An authentic collaboration is different. It involves more complexity. It demands higher levels of trust.  We know this from personal experience. Trust evolves as people take actions together. Trust takes time to develop. How can we accelerate the process? How can we build trust at scale?

We can do that by teaching the skills of designing and guiding complex conversations to translate ideas into action quickly and repeatedly.

Here’s the critical insight: collaborative conversations share an underlying structure.  This structure provides us a discipline to follow. Think of the last conversation that you had in a meeting. Chances are, it wandered all over the place. People followed their own line of thought. If you are lucky, you found intersections. You might have  even taken the time to explore these intersections in some depth. If so, you likely experienced some higher levels of energy in the meeting. Finally, you may have figured out some next steps and made a general commitment to continue the conversation at another time. Chances are, however, your meeting  ended  with some degree of dissatisfaction. Research shows that about half of our meetings are unproductive.

It’s time to push the reset button.

Effective, authentic collaborations involve a disciplined process of applying common sense. Anyone can do it. However, in virtually all the cases we’ve seen, we don’t routinely apply a discipline to our collaboration. That’s why they too often fail.

Strategic Doing provides a simple discipline.It makes explicit a  set of simple rules for designing and guiding complex collaborations.   To enable people to apply these rules, we created the role of “Table Guide” as a leader of a  complex, collaborative conversation.  Becoming a Table Guide involves  developing a set of skills  for guiding a conversation while at the same time participating in it. To help our students understand the the role of a Table Guide, we developed the Strategic Doing Trail Map.  As people  to follow the Trail Map they begin to internalize the skills needed to guide a complex  conversation leading to a collaboration.

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Ed Morrison