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The Secret Life of Us – The Surprising Psychology of Collaboration (pt 2)

 In Business decisions, Insights, Management, People decisions, Realizer Blog, Teams

In part 2 of a 2 part blog, X or Y founder Rob Pyne looks at the problems and myths of collaboration. This blog is the companion to a talk delivered to the Mumbrella360 marketing and advertising conference in June 2014. Read part 1 first here.

Three tips to super charge your collaborations

Let me be frank. It’s basically up to you to change the way you think. It starts at your front door, not with you trying to change everyone else!

If you’re stuck in a world where you get together with your partners to cobble together a client presentation the night before it’s due, read on….

  1. When you want to shut down, Open Up instead

The first thing you need to do is let go of all your defensiveness. In the book, Radical Collaboration, they show how we all want to feel three things: significant, competent and likeable. Advertising people are no exception. Your challenge is to really feel confident in your own abilities enough to let down your barriers, listen to other people’s ideas and accept that sometimes their idea might be the best one.

A crucial step here is having the honesty to say “I don’t know”. The authors of Freakonomics are out with a new book, Think Like a Freak, where they call these “the 3 hardest words to say in the English language”. Setting up a meeting by admitting you don’t “yet” know the answer means that you can all search for it together.

An example of “opening up” was given to me by Jonathon Pease, Managing Partner of Tongue. When he faces difficult partnerships where he perceives others don’t want to collaborate, instead of shutting up shop in a tit-for-tat way, he does the opposite. He keeps sharing more and more until the other party sees the light and begins to collaborate.

  1. Avoid harmony

This may sound counter-intuitive, so read on….

There is a phrase called “artificial harmony” which is where meetings are pleasant and polite (if a bit boring) and things seem to be harmonious, but what’s really happening is people don’t really commit to the actions mentioned in meetings and then do something quite different when they are on their own.

So, the opposite of this – what you want to aim for – is a collaboration built on “constructive conflict”, where you can debate ideas, build on each others’ ideas, challenge each other – but at the end of a meeting align around a direction which you are truly committed to. You’ve got to be open (as per point one) to people challenging you too though, a concept I call “poking my bubble” – based on the idea that we all exist in a bubble within which we believe we are right about most everything – which of course turns out to be untrue most of the time.

One specific way of achieving constructive conflict is to use De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats technique, based on the principle of parallel thinking where we all search for the positives at the same time, and then search for the negatives at the same time (we “wear the same hats”) which leads to much improved collaboration, better ideas, and quicker decisions.

  1. Dodge group-decision disasters

Speaking of decisions, my role as a decision-making trainer and coach has focused frequently on how groups make decisions. It turns out that most groups make worse decisions than the most capable individual would make on their own. To counter this you need to make sure that:-

  • You assemble a diverse team with different backgrounds and listen to what everyone has to say, not just the loudest voices or the most senior
  • Build consensus by focusing on small wins, highlight what you agree on and build consensus from there
  • Be clear on the criteria you are making decisions on. It never ceases to amaze me that we can write endless creative and media briefs, and then when we’re presenting to the client, no-one refers back to the brief to work through the criteria.
  • Used trained facilitators. It’s great to have collaboration as a KPI for your team, but why not train them to be facilitators? – meetings will be much more productive if there is someone making sure that you are smoothly progressing towards your goals and everyone’s voice is being heard. To “facilitate” is to make it easier and having someone own that role will reduce partisans side-taking.

In summary

Collaboration is very often ineffective, even counter-productive to the clients’ goals – and the relevant agencies’ goals. The rational model of collaboration can take you so far in sorting out extrinsic incentives, scope of work and so on. But the secret to great collaboration is to look at yourself, and to decide to open up, to have honest conversations and constructive conflict, and to think carefully about how you make decisions – so that everyone can truly buy into them and execute them brilliantly.

Written by Rob Pyne