A lot of my 25 years of work experience is in collaboration. For many years though, this was not in my CV or anywhere in my conversations about skills or competences. Why is that? I started to think about what it is, that people refer to as collaboration. More and more in the last 7 years, while working in different projects for sustainable and strategic development and business, I came to pay attention to the topic. After all, these initiatives always involved some level of collaboration.
I realised that in the sustainability area, people seem to have become eager to mention or ask for collaboration as one of the key aspects for the success of different projects. I will not contradict that, as I am a big defendant of listening to diverse stakeholders and of bringing communities and business together. Just recently in a call for a project I am working on, that was the central idea of the discussion.
Recently, I used some research to write down and summarize the enemies or barriers of collaboration. My intention was to design exercises for teams to overcome such obstacles, in a fun way. Work done, I put myself to reflect upon what is behind all those obstacles. As in one of my meditations for personal development, it came to me clearly and brightly: expectations! In many cases and levels, for instance while working in team at a company or with suppliers, different expectations are present, but mostly at a manageable level. The goal is usually enough clear. Reduce cost of this, improve the quality of that, resolve a particular performance problem, etc. Yes, people may disagree on the how, about their logics or even have secret agendas, but the intensity of those distractions in comparison to the goal most times is not too relevant. In many other cases though, when the topic is more complex, as for instance in many issues around sustainability, the goal is not always so clear, and the variables are many, especially when seen in a larger scope. In such cases, when collaboration starts, the worse one can do is to come in armed with a big bag of expectations.
In such complex cases usually happens that no one has enough understanding of implications, knowledge or systemic solutions alone. Technical and technological expertise, environmental impact at macro and micro levels, social implications at local or global levels, politics, trade interests, economic situation short or long term, education, quality of life, health, communities’ development at economic or social levels are not comprehended by all participants, not even at a generic level. That is why, obviously, collaboration is so necessary. The point that came to my mind is that when one engages in collaborating with others in such topics one cannot expect a specific result or a solution in particular. One cannot expect a certain line to be followed or a certain individual priority to be respected. The dynamics of the collaboration itself will define the viable expectations for the group along the process. Even the goal definition is developed in that same process. Hidden agendas, specific objectives, quick small or big wins may simply be overwhelming and completely ruin the collaboration work. Okay, this can happen in any case! Right. What I believe is that for complex issues as environmental ones, basically, we need to simply forget any expectation. Except the one of working together the best one can. Our ignorance about the whole systems is so much a factor in itself, that we need to let the process of collaboration to drive us, not to drive the collaboration work. And this is for most people a lifetime challenge: the challenge of surrendering, of letting go. Not as “I don’t care” or “I give up”, but as the wisdom of simply being part of knowing that we do not know it all.
Only then, really effective solutions can come out of collaboration, and success can be achieved. It is almost an art. The value of people who are skilled in such competences, in all areas of expertise, is one of the biggest values that humanity (and business) should cultivate.