Unlocking Ernie – How to collaborate

 In Business decisions, Collaboration, Communication, Insights, Realizer Blog, Teams

There’s one management challenge I keep seeing crop up across multiple clients. It’s that, these days, management isn’t just about having direct reports; it’s about rapidly forming collaborations and coalitions with other people who don’t report to you.

“How to collaborate” is a topic which I’ve done some research on, and spoken at Mumbrella360 conference in 2014 on. Given the increasing demand to do something about it, we have now piloted an exercise called Unlocking Ernie in our management training courses, which challenges you to rethink how you manage people who aren’t easy to work with.

First off, imagine you have a colleague called Ernie who you find hard to influence. He is a peer of yours in another team, but you have to collaborate with him to achieve your goals.

With Ernie in mind, we split the group into 3 and ask them to look at the following perspectives:-

Perspective 1: negotiating with Ernie:-

What can you learn from negotiation theory to create a win-win for you and Ernie? This relies on exploring underlying interests of each party (think empathy, asking questions before demanding work be done) – and arriving at a win-win for both parties.

Perspective 2: persuading Ernie:-

The leading expert in influence and persuasion is Robert Cialdini. He proposes a number of ways to be better at persuading others:

  • People like to be consistent, so show how your request fits with their view of the world, and the things they’ve previously said. Don’t try and change their mind!
  • We are more likely to do favours for people that we believe are similar to us, so stress the similarities you have and build rapport with them.
  • People generally don’t like other people’s ideas anywhere near as much as their own. So how can you make them feel like it’s their idea?
  • Some people are motivated by delivering firsts and exclusives, and feeling special. How can you tap into these desires with your request?
  • Social proof. On the other hand, some people like to be led by what other people are doing. Can you point out how this request is being done elsewhere and what benefit they are getting?

Perspective 3: motivating Ernie:-

Dan Pink summarised the latest research into motivation in his book Drive. He turned it into a three factor approach: give people some autonomy in how they work; show them how it links to them achieving mastery of a valuable skill; and relate it to a higher purpose such as helping others.

The results

When we get the groups back together to discuss these different perspectives, we find they broaden their thinking about influence, and develop more empathy for their colleagues. Leading with empathy is a good way to increase your collaboration skills. And nowadays, those skills are becoming crucial to your success.


Written by Rob Pyne

Our “Unlocking Ernie” exercise was part of a management course which received average feedback of 97% (9.7/10).