Collaboration occurs when a group of people have a common goal and some shared processes to pursue that goal. Collaborations can be formal, informal or a blend and occur at local and planetary scale.

The 2015 Paris climate change talks are probably the most complex collaborations taking place on the planet today. A challenge that involves an array of formal and informal organisations as well as diverse public opinion across the whole of our global diversity.

This is our future; becoming smarter at collaborating globally on complex problems across the global diversity. It is one of humanity’s leading edge challenges and for the benefit of future generations we need to get better at this fast.

Collaboration has a better chance of achieving successful outcomes when there is alignment of vision and values amongst the collaborators. Global collaborations such as climate change are tough because these conditions do not currently exist at scale across humanity.  We don’t have a sufficient sense of being ‘in it together’ and aren’t prepared to make tough trade-offs for the collective planetary good.

Much of the formal organisational frameworks for these collaborations are locked in a nation-state model that in it’s origin attaches primacy to its own interest before the collective global interest. Yet there is an emerging global population increasingly socialised in a ‘beyond beliefs and borders’ mindset. Hopefully in coming decades this stream of consciousness will reach a tipping point enabling such global collaborations to be increasingly effective.

A collaboration is profoundly shaped by the nature and intensity of common purpose held by the collaborators.  Is yours a worthy collaboration that attracts great people who can fully commit to the purpose?

I happened to be in Egypt in late January 2011 during the first flush of the Arab Spring, on reflection this nation-wide collaboration was fuelled by a shared understanding of what people did not want yet insufficient common purpose on what people did want. So the energy of the collaboration disintegrated once the initial decoupling from the Mubarak regime had been achieved.  Great purposes attract great people and for periods of time almost super human reservoirs of energy. In a sporting context the All Blacks from 2008 through to their recent world cup victory are a rare example of sustained collaborative excellence.

In recent years we have been ‘sold’ many forms of online collaboration tools and in our business we take advantage of these, enabling global clients to achieve growth in their collaborative capacity faster and at lower cost than could have been achieved pre-2005. Yet at its heart collaboration is a deeply human activity and online tools will not solve the pervasive problem of poor collaboration.

When deconstructed collaboration is about our ability, given a common purpose, to iterate at speed through the innovation-cycle. To have the right habits and practices amongst the collaborating group to navigate this cycle. The divergent phase covers problem-sensing, exploring differences of opinion, catalysing more ideas, challenging assumptions and experimenting with emerging solutions. This is a very different type of activity to the subsequent convergent phase of making decisions on options, mobilising for action, implementing and reviewing.

The habits and practices for the divergent and convergent phases are very different. Clients grasp quickly the importance of intensity of common purpose and the need for higher trust levels amongst collaborators yet the importance of aligned habits and practices to manage the innovation cycle is poorly understood. To build these aligned habits and practices requires a deliberate effort over an extended period of time.

The three core elements of a successful collaboration; purpose, trust and aligned habits and practices, can be built into any collaborating group and in a way which creates a virtuous cycle of improvement in collaborative capacity during the very process of working on the most important challenges. Unfortunately, most collaborations whilst taking pride in their purpose pay little attention to the quality of their collaboration process and then are disappointed with their outcomes.

In global organisations, culture and managerial practices can either nurture or hinder good collaboration yet the wisdom exists to enable organisations to achieve breakthrough in the way they collaborate, they just need the insight to access it.

Yet at the level of global complex challenges such as climate change we are only just sensing what collaborative capacity is required for breakthrough. We must up the pace of our learning on complex collaboration in order to have any chance of confronting the wicked global challenges of our time – time is not on our side.


12f2c26-150x150 Collaboration: A complex global challenge
Simon Preston