Conscious Collaboration: A Mindful Approach
We are at a cross-roads in the development in human consciousness. Most of our workplace interactions with other people now take place electonically -- by e-mail, text, conference call, online meeting, virtual document editing. The interactions are often fast, transactional, sometimes exciting, and often challenging. Many companies are experimenting with new and different, fresh organizational structure to facilitate, faster, cross-boundary decision-making. Frederic Laloux, in his 2014 book, "Reinventing Organizations," proposes that three breakthroughs epitomize the new, evolutionary organization – self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.* The blood in the veins of each of these breakthroughs, in my view, is conscious collaboration.
As a species, though, we aren’t necessarily drawn to be collaborative. We choose to “co-labor,” to work together, because that’s how we get better results. It’s not an easy undertaking. Often we’re thrown into a work environment peopled with different personalities, and working with them all is not always stress-free.
About Conscious Collaboration
I would propose that collaboration requires not only a choice, but also a degree of sacrifice: that of putting your ego aside in service of a better result. “Sacrifice” means giving up something — but it also means “to make right.” That’s being collaborative in a conscious way: to take up right relationships at work to get the right results. In fulfilling our human calling to be conscious and collaborative, we must:
- Give of our time to make collaboration work.
- Give of our talent in service of the work.
- Give of our self, and our power, for the greater good.
Something at the heart of conscious collaboration means giving up indifference. Therein lies the importance of choice – to go beyond indifference to caring, which leads to the conscious choice to collaborate with others.
The How-To of Conscious Collaboration
So, the choice comes first . . . but how do we operationalize that choice, once it is made? At IA, we teach skills and practices that help people put conscious collaboration into action.
In its simplest form, collaboration happens in the art of conversation. Any leader has two main communication tools: inquiry and advocacy. Through inquiry, the leader helps to uncover useful information. Through advocacy, the leader influences the thinking of others. Leaders must be able to reveal the sources of their own thinking; to allow people a window into their beliefs and values. Conscious leaders balance listening in and speaking out.
The art of conversation is the interplay and balance of inquiry and advocacy. The leader, supervisor, or manager seeking to build a collaborative environment must choose which of these to use, and in what order, to best serve the situation. Is s/he setting direction, or motivating? Managing? Coaching? Delegating, or perhaps, leading change?
As depicted in the model below, leaders toggle between different modes — exploring, listening, influencing, and engaging in dialogue — in a sense, artfully tailoring inquiry and advocacy to the circumstances they face.
The four modes of conversation (Strategic Leadership Skills)
How to Use the Model
If your interaction is low on the scale of both inquiry and advocacy, that’s a listening conversation. Dialoguing, on the other hand, is an interaction that balances Inquiry and Advocacy. When you’re mostly advocating, you’re likely influencing and in some cases, even directing. And it’s important to note that directing is perfectly appropriate in some cases, such as an emergency or time-urgent situation. Exploring involves a high measure of inquiry with very little advocacy.
Strategies for Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy
• Inquire before you advocate.
• Choose when to inquire and when to advocate.
How each mode comes into play for any leader is largely situational. With a new employee, for instance, a leader might go to directing sooner. With a more experienced employee, the leader more regularly may opt to begin with dialogue. The idea is that leaders look to make a conscious choice – and are being consciously collaborative in doing so.
Leaders sometimes come under such pressure that they feel beaten down by surrounding forces. The tools and skills of Conscious Collaboration embolden leaders to make conscious choices, and to avoid mindlessly falling back on what they may have learned in the past. When I can observe myself, I can self-adjust. I can come off auto-pilot, and collaborate.
*Page 57 of Reinventing Organizations, by Frederic Laloux
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