3 Keys to Extraordinary Collaboration – Part 1

In my experience, competition and collaboration are neither opposite ends of a some relationship continuum nor alternating conditions. They are actually complimentary forces.

In fact, competition and collaboration are precessionary, that is, each is a naturally occurring, unintended consequence of the other.

For example, I might play a game with my boys where I encourage them to outdo Dad on a given task in order to get and keep my attention. This may (and often does) spur them to scheme together (collaborate) to beat me at my game. In the business realm, as the world’s markets become increasingly available, we experience more competitive forces on our businesses.

As we experience more competitive forces, we tend to look harder and harder for collaborators to help us absorb and respond to the competitive shocks. Said simply, competition and collaboration cause each other. We can see competition and collaboration at work in our everyday lives, too, as people, departments and organizations strive to attract, rely on, and assist new “partners.”

Exchange, Expansion, and Integrity

Here are three keys I’ve found will unlock the extraordinary in collaborations:

1. Get in EXCHANGE. We cannot have ongoing collaborations if our relationships are out of exchange. Exchange is the foundation for all business relationships. (In fact, social exchange theorists offer a powerful argument that exchange is the basis for all relationships, i.e., we take turns granting favors, risks, talking and listening, giving and receiving, back-scratching, etc.).

In my experience, the cornerstone of collaborating is positioning your relationship so that each party is providing value, is receiving value, and perceives that the relationship is fair in that regard. If your relationship is not considered to be IN exchange by each party, collaboration attempts will fail.

2. Apply the power of EXPANSION. Create a bright future for the relationship by developing a system-wide goal that is (1) bigger than any of the parties to the collaboration (2) requires all of them to achieve it, and (3) promises much larger rewards (exchanges) for the participants.

3. Build INTEGRITY into the relationship. Pursuing expansion is risky because investments and rewards may not always be in one-to-one correspondence. (For example, to build expansion with a partner, I might need to make extensive internal investments and/or adjustments — and the partner could defect in the process which could leave me holding the bag.) Hence, there may be opportunities for either dishonesty or distrust to break the collaboration and the relationship.

To build integrity into the relationship (1) communicate very frequently, (2) tell the truth, (3) make and keep agreements about membership in this collaboration, and (4) create a conflict-resolution process by talking in advance about what you will do to maintain exchange, expansion, and integrity if something goes wrong for either if you.

Get started with this week’s 5-minute practice tip:

Scan your critical relationships for exchange, expansion, and integrity to determine how the three keys are affecting their performance. Choose one in which you can pinpoint opportunities to use one or more of these keys to move the relationship from ordinary to extraordinary. Then do what you know it will take to open the door to that new vista. I promise this — what happens will be a better proof-of-concept than anything I might write here. Let me know your thoughts with a comment below.

Subscribers, watch for Part 2 of this post soon (subscribe now).

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Collaboration, Teamwork on 06/27/2011 11:24 am
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