Collaboration: a key trend and also one of the latest buzzwords. This year I set myself the target of writing a book about collaboration to separate the rhetoric from the reality and to explore how we might use our collective talents to create something better.
I have been interviewing leaders from a range of different organisations and community groups that have been collaborating in new ways since the Christchurch earthquakes. Five things stand out for me so far:
- Relationships matter every step of the way. Time needs to be spent at the beginning to develop shared norms, values and vision.
- Technology enhances. Collaboration can exist without technology but the ripple it creates will be smaller.
- Conflict. If there is no conflict there is no deep collaboration. Expect conflict, allow for it and deal with it openly, and respectfully. When you have a diverse group working together the richness of different perspectives will naturally create tensions.
- Know when to collaborate. If there are few gains to be made, if there is a hostile environment, or if there are no relationships between parties then collaboration will simply waste time. Grow relationships first.
- Leadership. Collaboration still requires people to lead. This is often through influence rather than position, but both are appropriate. In an increasingly complex world leaders must be able to navigate complexity, explore multiple perspectives and feel comfortable in not having all the answers.
Don Tapscott describes the need for change as follows: “This is not the information age. It’s an age of communication, of collective intelligence, of major collaboration, of major participation…driving themes are collaboration, transparency and sharing of intellectual property.” Collaboration is human by design.
In an increasingly ubiquitous world, professionals are being replaced by technology in areas that are less ‘human by design’. When we look at the teaching profession we see that technology is increasingly supplementing the work of the teacher, including the use of telepresence robots. The Teacher (deliberately with a capital T) is increasingly a person who can navigate the complexities of learning and interact with others. In this emerging environment Teachers will need to be:
In his research on disciplined collaboration, management professor Morton Hansen explores the imperative to collaborate. He describes four types of workers:
The Lone Star – the person who wants to do their own thing. Teachers who are lone stars are focused on their individual goals and focus on their students but do not collaborate or work well in a team.
The Butterfly – is willing to collaborate over everything without focusing on their own work. Teachers who are butterflies will volunteer for projects and committees and as a result their own work suffers.
The Laggard – wanting to maintain status quo and block change. Teachers who block change may not be interested in trying anything new but the reasons need to be explored carefully, in my view.
The T shaped worker – can work horizontally and vertically. Teachers who are T shaped workers perform well in their own practice and also collaborate in teams.
It is the T-shaped worker that we need to foster at all levels of the organisation. In education T-shaped workers are those teachers with what Michael Fullan describes as Professional Capital – teachers with a mix of human capital, social capital, and decisional capital. Teachers who are T-shaped have a deep knowledge of their craft, can collaborate with others, and make decisions that benefit learners. These Teachers won’t be replaced by technology any time soon because they have the ability to interact in uniquely human ways.
The trend is to build schools where learning spaces are more agile and adaptive. The Teachers in these spaces will need to collaborate but they will only do so effectively when there is:
Purpose – Trust – Clarity – Commitment
Collaboration is a trend that is here to stay. The people I have interviewed to date have shared their stories and I will be collating these so we can all learn from what worked, what didn’t, and lessons learnt. It is clear that collaboration isn’t always easy, even when it does produce better results. Collaboration requires an outwards mindset.
Over the next six months I will be sharing some examples of collaboration in action. I would value your examples and ideas.