3 Keys to Extraordinary Collaboration – Part 2

In the first part of this series, 3 Keys to Extraordinary Collaboration – Part 1, we examined three keys to collaboration: Exchange + Expansion + Integrity.

Remember, we can’t successfully collaborate until we’re “in exchange.” To be in exchange, each party to a relationship must be providing and receiving fair value — as each perceives it.

Beyond the issue of exchange, though, I’ve noticed that excellent collaborators make two powerful distinctions in VALUE as they choose who to approach for collaboration.

Distinction #1. Being “in exchange” is not of itself collaborating. It is good, traditional business practice. As a result of the Quality movement, many people and companies developed a habit of referring to all their business associates as “partners.” Sometimes this is hyperbole. And sadly, the term “partnering” can be considered a lame promise in many business circles today.

I have developed a habit of inquiring a little about the nature of these relationships, looking for signs of expansion and integrity. It’s important to me that the term “partner,” as used by people with whom I’m considering doing business, refers to business practices that encourage and support expansion and integrity.

Distinction #2. Even in a relationship that’s in exchange around what’s provided and received (the contractual exchange) between participants, other aspects can make the relationship too “expensive.” It’s critical to make and monitor a distinction between contractual exchange and “relational” exchange.

Relational exchange drops out of balance when one party does something unexpected and/or unfair to another party. Examples include backstabbing, quibbling after the deal is made, asking too many favors, consistently ignoring needs, etc. Examples are endless. If you’re like most people I talk to, you’ve probably quit one or more valuable contractual exchanges because of their relational costs to you.

A balanced relational exchange is critical to creative collaboration. The relationship is either part of the reward of the activity or it’s a cost and liability to the contractual exchange.

What to look for? Excellent collaborators know that to stay in relational exchange they must:

  1. Remain sensitive to observing and learning from others’ relationship requirements — the things that go beyond the contractual values.
  2. Keep communication channels open for any party to say at any time, “You know, the deal we made isn’t working very well for me anymore, and here’s why…” And the other party must at least be open to discussing an adjustment.

I’m convinced these distinctions are the bedrock of high-performance collaboration. If you’ve got any hesitations about their importance, I encourage you to recall the last time you got a signal that “the deal’s the deal” from another party, that the other party wasn’t willing to take any responsibility for the relationship beyond the contractual exchange…

How much effort did you put into the work? And how big was your profit? Get started with this week’s 5-minute practice tip.

5-Minute Practice Tip

Choose one or two relationships that you consider to be ongoing collaborations or partnerships. Define the contractual exchange (i.e., what you are giving and receiving). Then, examine how you and your partner successfully keep the relational aspects of the exchange in balance.

Go beyond noticing how nice, open and flexible each of you are. Describe how each of you takes responsibility for the relationship, how you communicate about that, and how you make adjustments. Identify a relationship where the relational cost (otherwise known as aggravation) is approaching a level that makes the contractual exchange intolerable, and then challenge yourself to hold a conversation about changing the relational exchange in order to continue the contract.

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 on 07/12/2011 09:32 am
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