You and the Collective
Just out on another day of hosting a group of people doing their business in collaboration.
When things go well, ego invites to the dream that it was all about how wonderful my work is and how great I was today, but time had shown that it’s not about me at all. People are just good at doing this.
At the same time, our work hosting groups is essential as an instrument to sustain the experience of collaboration and not let the conversation fall into the same old patterns usually in place. Those learned patterns are revisited so many times that it’s like falling into an old habit.
On the other hand, when things go a bit sour, we can again choose the path of taking it on our incompetence or inability – much of the same “it’s all about me” behaviour – or even just blame an external source of disaster and become the poor victim of it all.
Either way, both carry the assumption of conversations being mere cause and effect events that can be simplified by finding something or someone to blame and, of course, to fix it.
It’s never about us and also we play an essential role in it.
We are both insignificant to what will unfold and at the same time essential as we create context and container for it.
Context, Container and Content
In this work we listen and act understanding and choosing the conditions needed and then paying attention when things are unfolding.
Those can be expressed in 3 Cs: Container, Context and Content.
Before we even meet the group as a whole, we are up and running to create context and container for the conversation, usually with a great deal of previous work, some interviews to adquire language, a good choice of space and structure, etc.
Here, though the energy is diluted, is where 80% of the amount of work is done. Context and container will do some of the important work later on.
And finally when we meet, it is time for the art of being present and some deep listening to be aware of shifts in context and the emergence of content – being those feelings, actions or concepts.
This is energy intensive but less quantitative work. One does not see much being done as the job is really to just stand there paying attention.
When we look at what is happening at the world, complexity seems to be climbing the mountain. I wouldn’t say there are more complex problems, but perhaps more capacity in our society to acknowledge issues that are complex. This comes at a time when it’s visible that some problems impact our lives and won’t go away with a ‘quick fix’ approach.
To explore those issues and find new ways to interact among ourselves and with the world, we as society are in need of bringing a great deal of perceptions together. The act of creating spaces and opportunities for people to learn and act together is growing, and this is what is shown in the book I was recently reading: The Collaboratory.
The Collaboratory is an idea born from a vision for the future of management education, but one that reflects the moments of change in society as a whole. The capacity to co-create and collaborate are being experienced as the way to positively move forwards in acting change. The book draws his name from the initiative and finds many others sharing its principles.
It comes to consolidate the practice of stakeholder collaboration for change at a time when methodologies and processes for stakeholder engagement are more structured and widespread and many practitioners are reflecting and acting to create spaces to tackle complex issues in both organisations and society.
In the book I found stories of how initiatives are evolving around the world, together with different dimensions for collaboration and examples of spaces and processes that bring up societal change. I found old colleagues and teachers among the writers but also new colleagues and unheard initiatives. And I’m sure it is still a small collection, there is more out there worth another half dozen books.
In four different parts, the book encompasses a variety of authors coming from realms like the Society of Organisational Learning, a Swiss-based non-profit and the movement 50+20, initiative which inspired the name of the book.
Authors show their initiatives and insights on how to identify, invite, design and host a journey of collaboration to solve wicked problems. The book, rather than a collection of articles, is very well framed and feels like a co-created exploration of people working directly to re-shape change-making processes towards journeys of collaboration.
Called a DesignShop, SocialLab, Transformative Scenario Planning and working based on processes from Appreciative Inquiry, the Art of Hosting and Theory U, many authors share premises like:
- the idea of a transformative journey that brings up the new by cooperation and tending to processes rather than competition and crafting products;
- the importance of facilitating collaborative space that looks more like an engaging journey than a decision-making event;
- it is about methods and patterns of creating space and inviting people into hands-on collaborative change;
- there are requirements and conditions that make collaboratories work, based on practical experimentation, but no checklist to success;
- gatherings work with emergent solutions from people engaged in the topic at hand rather than hoping to solve problems bringing in expert solutions;
- transformation comes from prototyping solutions rather than pure analysis and brainstorming sessions.
The last parts of the book show examples of collaboratories around the world and applied to many sectors of society followed by an exploration on how to design a collaboratory and what changes in the role of a group facilitator to hold such a space.