Our areas of work are siloed due to limited resources and time, the huge scope of our global mandate, the high level of specialization required, and internal politics. Collaboration and learning as a team (beyond the unit level) requires leadership and concerted effort. It is hard to sustain over time.
Yet, to collaborate we build, sustain and renew many individual relationships based on trust and need. These are much less subject to fluctuations in our environment. We may get to know each other and become friends first, perhaps because we work next to each other in the office, share lunch or coffee breaks, or engage in the same activities outside of work. Being in the field together is a powerful accelerator. We also share the commitment to the mission, despite our frustrations with the here and now. This is how, on one level, we come to establish trust, by being human together. For collaboration to lead to results, the quality of human relationships is a critical factor. “Good colleagues” are those whom we trust.
On another level, we learn to be careful given the volatility of our environment. Perhaps we first test the waters of both technical and collaboration competencies by asking for input on a concept paper or inviting a colleague to contribute to a meeting. We observe how they behave to determine how and to what extent we can collaborate with them – and how much value can come from collaboration. Only then can we begin to be transparent with each other to achieve shared understanding.
What about those of us who are not technical experts, but provide support, for example, for planning, project development, learning or communication? Negotiating collaborative learning is a necessity. Asking questions of others is legitimized by the recognition that your own expertise is in another area of work.
Even though much of relationship building depends on the behaviors of individuals, our organization can do much to provide an enabling environment to foster dialogue and collaboration. We also need to rethink the rules of engagement that, in some cases, provide the appearance of consensus but slow our ability to identify and tackle a problem.
Photo: Synchronicity of Color (DWPittard/flickr.com).