Sometimes barriers to collaboration are related not to a behavior, but rather to factors that influence the group dynamic. The following are common such problems:
- Conflicts of interest. Transparency helps, but the collaborative leader can help by tactfully putting comments in context and juxtaposing individuals with different causes in a way that creates insight and comparison. The key is visibility and the best way to achieve that is with humble questioning that reveals a potential conflict or problem. The challenge is to avoid accusation, but reveal the problem.
- Dueling hidden agendas. Sometimes people are not even aware that they have a hidden agenda. A good collaborative leader will tease out all the agendas by asking the right questions.
- Strong egos. Few people with strong egos leave them at the door, even when asked to do so. As a result, you may get ego clashes. The right leadership, with appropriate humor, can turn egos into an asset. Sometimes a friend can mentor a colleague into not becoming a pompous ass. Introducing the potential offender as knowledgeable, skillful, open minded and humble can produce a self-fulfilling result, although admittedly not all the time.
When these dynamics dominate the result is all too often Pseudo-collaborations. A great many collaborations are in name only. A job needs to be done and a team is appointed to do it. The criteria for being appointed to that team may be technical, but frequently it is merely availability. One of the most unfortunate aspects of pseudo collaborations is that they perform the “box check requirement.” Leaders and participants know that they are serving a political function that passes a “looks-like-a-collaboration” test, but the dynamics are bureaucratic and self protective. These collaborations define the old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Perhaps the most common pseudo collaborations are “blue ribbon panels.” Although this is usually a political phrase, every organization, when confronted with a highly visible major problem, wants to demonstrate its seriousness by pulling together great (and highly respected) minds to work as a team.
Most of us think of collaboration as working together for a common goal. And it is. But, is it enough to just pull together the brightest minds, put them under the command of a respected leader, and wait for the fruits of their labor to come forth? Obviously not, but frequently hope triumphs over reality. And rhetoric generally trumps facts and content. It takes a very skillful leader to create an atmosphere where the ego of the individual is subservient to the success of the team.