A Messy Business: Principles for Effective Collaboration

Collaboration is a messy business.  It is time-intensive and can be interpersonally challenging.

It is also the best way that we know to solve the worlds’ complex problems: from vast issues like climate change, health and education, to more concrete issues like how to create a sustainable, regenerative building or a state of the art hospital (or sometimes both!).

Genesis Building Effective CollaborationTerry Taylor and I have been working with Jim Bedrick, an expert in “Integrated Project Delivery“(IDP), a form of construction that builds buildings which have a very different design process.  Instead of using a “Design-Bid-Build” system, where architects, construction managers and subcontractors, and owners are all three separate teams, they use IPD- a system that brings these groups together onto one team, and asks them to collaborate from the ground up.  This is pretty radical in the competitive field of construction – and what they are finding is that it is possible to solve building conundrums more effectively and – here’s the crux – more innovatively – than in the old system where groups were in a competitive stance from day 1.

We have been working together to design a workshop for individuals who would like to develop and hone their skills for collaboration.  Along with tools for dialogue, problem-solving, and facilitation, we have developed a set of principles to help collaborators in any field work more effectively – and innovatively – together.

These principles are timeless, they work regardless of the situation, and without them, collaboration cannot happen effectively.  See if you agree about the following principles, which are rooted in well-known theories of high-performance teamwork (The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach), systems thinking (5th Discipline FieldGuide, Peter Senge et al,) and Mutual Learning (The Skilled Facilitator – Roger Schwarz).

  1. Focus on shared purpose: Shared purpose forms both the reason for bringing the group together.  Without shared purpose, the “stakes” of engaging together are not clear – and it is not “worth” the investment of time and energy.
  2. Build respect and trust: Without respect – the acknowledgement of the diversity of opinions and perspective – it is very hard to build trust.  Without trust, the “root problems” may never be addressed, the best ideas may never be shared, and ultimately the relationship that helps ride the waves of interpersonal ups and downs doesn’t get strengthened.
  3. Detach ego from ideas: Ego is an important part of innovation – without some form of confidence and self-concept, new creativity does not get brought to the mix.  However, once ideas ARE offered, it is best to step aside and let them have their own life.  That can be challenging – we naturally are invested in our own ideas.  But that’s how best results in collaboration occurs.
  4. Align self-interest and shared interests:  We define collaboration as the following: “A joining together of people with multiple loyalties to share risks  and combine ideas to obtain benefits greater than any single individual could accomplish.”  Specifically, “people with multiple loyalties” come to the table for different reasons.  By looking for ways to align self-interest and shared interests in the group, you create common ground upon which the collaboration can flourish.
  5. Emphasize equal relationship and status: As in negotiations, significant power differentials in collaboration can create a sense of unequal dependency, vulnerability, and a shoddy foundation for partnership.  Ultimately, this is due to whether all parties feel they will have gain and reciprocity – and whether others are stepping up to the plate.  By emphasizing equal relationship and status, you create an equality of contribution – whether through ideas or other forms – and an equal playing ground.
  6. Disagreement is a positive force, look to harness it: Conflict can make or break collaborations.  It is also a form of powerful energy that can drive clarity and strengthen relationship if used well.  It is also an expected and important part of collaboration.  If we seek to harness conflict in our collaborations, the energy can be transformative, leading us to deeper understanding of each other and solutions that break the mold.  See my recent article on conflict for tools to harness its power.

These principles are a foundation for effective collaboration if used consistently and precisely.  Let us know how you have seen them at work in your own collaborative effort!

Navigating Conflict – How to Get to Common Ground

by Genevieve Taylor

“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
Lao Tzu

Ah, conflict.  What would we do without it?  What do we do WITH it?  In stories, the conflict – the interplay between people, the striving for what we think are opposite sides – is what keep us interested.  In real life, some would say the same – while others would say, “if you give me conflict – get me out of there!”  People have many reasons for avoiding conflict – perhaps they value the relationship over whatever the “fight” is about; perhaps they don’t want the discomfort of conflict; perhaps they feel it is too risky.


At Global Genesis, we believe that conflict is not only a natural part of the human dynamic, but that conflict can be an opportunity to build relationship as well as get results.  We help people get better at conflict ultimately so they can achieve better outcomes, better relationship – and even common ground.

Our image for conflict is the volcano.  For those of us who have had the opportunity to see a volcano, there is nothing like stepping onto sharp, raw new earth – literally glowing underneath from the efforts of being made.  Creating common ground in conflict has its similarities – conflict can truly be an opportunity to forge new territory together, to open up the opportunities for new innovation and creativity.  However, it takes personal will to take the pressure of conflict and harness it to create that common ground.

Principles for Effective Conflict.  We have probably all seen conflict “blow” – and the detritus from that explosion impacting not only the parties involved, but sometimes innocent bystanders.  Less often, we see individuals work through conflict effectively.  Below are principles for conflict that we have taught in over 60 countries.

GG Principles of Conflict Copyright Global Genesis
Global Genesis Principles of Conflict

Principle 1: Turn “tension” into “in-tension”.  Consider – what is the most critical moment in a conflict?  You are preparing to talk to that someone who “does that thing” that really MUST change.  You find a time to sit down with them… and you proceed to tell them exactly they MUST change.  Backup- rewind – you missed it!  The most critical moment is even before you begin.  If you really want for your conflict to be resolved, if you want to use it as an opportunity to build relationship, you must set your intention from the beginning to look for a win for both of you.  In fact, your intention must be that you will work as hard to create a win for them as you do to create a win for yourself.  Your intention then becomes a tool of transformation – and is ultimately the decision to “enter the volcano” of conflict.

Principle 2: Start with Acceptance.  Once you have decided to “enter the volcano”, it is important to start with accepting both sides of the dispute.  This is NOT about agreeing – it is rather about hearing what each party has to say.  It is the opportunity to hear the first level of stories, opinions, and ideas that brought each party “to the table.”  What you are really doing when focusing on acceptance is enhancing mutual regard.  The key is to help the other party know that they have been heard – and also ensure that you feel the other party has heard you.  This builds respect between parties, the foundation for future progress.

Principle 3: Build Understanding.  The next step is to create deeper understanding between both parties.  Now that you know what, the question is why do they believe the way they do? What is the motive for their action?  What stories are underpinning the events to date?  it is only when you have understanding that you can create solutions that will really work in the long-term.

The classic Getting to Yes  tells the story of two sisters who fought over an orange.  They achieved a compromise – to split the orange, at which point the first took her half off to zest it for a cake, leaving the pulp unused, while the other took hers off to juice, leaving the zest untouched. By missing the motive of each sister (and settling for compromise, as opposed to resolution), both sisters lost out on a win-win solution.

Ultimately, by focusing on building understanding, you create trust together, which will help build a safe container for  “discussing the undiscussables” – those things that are hard to discuss, but may hold the key to a solution that will be a true win for both parties.

Principle 4: Craft agreements  It is only AFTER focusing on acceptance and understanding that agreements can begin to take shape.  Why?  In our work, we have observed again and again that trust only comes after respect is built, and it is only with both respect and trust in play that solid agreements that last over time can be created.  The second and third principles help build both trust and respect.  If solutions are offered before those other principles have been explored, most times they will either a.) not last because they don’t solve the real problem, b.) will be shunned immediately because the trust hasn’t been built to the point where the offer is trusted, or c.) that problem is solved, but the conflict continues and arises in a different form at another time.

Lets say that you have moved through all of the principles, and are crafting an agreement. Try to diverge first –  open up different solutions and play with different scenarios, without making a decision.  After you have put your options on the table, that’s when you can converge  on a solution. This allows you to be creative in not only the facts of the solution, but also the form of the solution.

More about conflict: Ultimately this rests on your ability to manage your own emotions internally – where much of the pressure of conflict really stems from.  See Terry’s blog here for his description of Global Genesis tools for working with the emotions of conflict.  Further, each principle has a set of skills that you can employ to put these principles into action – we will explore those in another blog post.

Designing An Organization Built to Change

Complete MBA for Dummiesby Genevieve Taylor

I picked up the Complete MBA for Dummies a few years ago, curious as to whether one could actually get a Complete MBA through reading a 414-page (including the index) book. While I can’t answer that question, I was struck by the first chapter. They said that the thing each organization needs to be prepared for, to expect, to relish, is… (drum roll please)…

The Prospect, the Countenance, the Reality of Change.

It was, to say the least, very confirming.

The truth of it, in these days, with the rapidity of change, the complete turnover of technology (where did the analog system go?), most businesses, non-profits, and everyone else are aware of the need to be prepared for change.

And yet, we still have trouble adjusting for change, building for it, preparing for it. Oh, maybe at the beginning of an organization’s life, when everything is being created, it is easier. Structures are malleable, and people are open. But, as Terry Taylor says…

Nothing Fails Like Success.

Success breeds satisfaction, rigidity. And while we don’t need to imitate Mao with a Cultural Revolution (aka purge) every 10 years, we do need to keep the learning curve fresh for ourselves. Keeping the Learning Curve – essentially, the ability to innovate, fresh is one of the key reasons that so many large organizations have attempted to create smaller entrepreneurial organizations within.

Surf the Wave

So, how can you design an organization so it is fully ready to surf the wave of change?

How can you ready your people? How can you predict curves and swoops of change, and take advantage of it through strategy and precise action?

The Reconfigurable Organization:

A fantastic book, Designing Dynamic Organizations,suggests the Reconfigurable Organization as a strategy. It says that there are five components to organizational design, and how you handle each of them will directly impact your ability to maneuver change – and have negative consequences if you fail to do so.

The five components of organizational design:

  1. Strategy – The strategy for the organization must be integrated into the organizational design. The direction of the company – its goals, its vision, the reality of the economy, environment, and market must all inform how an organization is designed.
  2. Structure – The authors refer to the structure as the home, the body of the organization. How functions are organized, and how roles are defined, will have a subtle and not-so-subtle impact on how energy in the organization is channeled, how work is accomplished, and on the focus of the organization.
  3. Processes and Lateral Capability – Specialization of function, while it has its obvious strengths, naturally creates boundaries and barriers to collaboration. This can be overcome by looking at the interpersonal communication networks, informal and formal, the technological networks, and by specifically naming integrative roles that, as the authors point out, form the “glue” of the organization.
  4. Reward Systems – How people are rewarded signifies how the organization measures success. What types of results and behaviors is the organization looking for? How can it encourage those by what it measures, incentivizes, and discourages?
  5. People Practices – Depending on what the organization needs, the skills, competencies, and resources of its people could significantly change. How you are selecting, developing, and what you are giving feedback on should evolve in tandem with the how the organization evolves.

The authors make the point that if any of these pieces do not reflect the organization’s current needs, it could lead to confusion, friction(inability to execute), gridlock (no collaboration), internal competition, and low performance. Any of these problems sound familiar?

Their solution? The Reconfigurable Organization – an organization that by its very design is ready to change and evolve with the organization’s needs; that encourages collaboration and execution. They point out –

If change is constant, why not design the organization to be constantly and quickly changeable?

Redoing Org Structure

The Reconfigurable Organization is characterized by…

  • Active Leadership
  • Knowledge Management
  • Learning
  • Flexibility
  • Integration
  • Employee Commitment
  • Change Readiness

Designing Dynamic Organizations walks you through the process of organizational re-design, discussing everything from focus groups to the design process. They are thorough, accessible, and really intending the group for leaders and practitioners, pointing out that top leaders and HR Directors will find this very useful. It is the best book I have found on looking at how an organization can be designed to meet the needs of its most fundamental asset – its people.

Changemaking: Expanding Your Circle of Influence

In the “The Process of Transition”, we talked about managing the psychological impacts of change. We talked about how change is inevitable, as are the emotional consequence of change. So how do you negotiate the waves of change for your own, and others’, benefit?

Being The Leader of Influence

In the post, Tactics for Leading Change, I made the argument that a Leader’s most effective long-term tool is that of influence. Influence, while being a less direct route to making change, has a much larger impact.

Covey's Circle of Focus
Covey’s Circle of Focus

The tool shown here is modified from Stephen Covey’s “Circle of Focus” first described in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThe Circle of Focus contains anything whose behavior you can directly control. This includes you, your dog (possibly), your small child (before they begin walking, maybe), and, for a very short time, anyone who you are able to exercise direct power and authority over. I say a short time, because if you have to exercise direct power and authority for long periods of time, you are likely engaged in a power struggle which can tend towards dysfunctional, passive-aggressive behaviors.

So, lets say that the Circle of Focus contains, essentially and most functionally, you. The Circle of Influence contains anything that you have some degree of, well, influence, that directly affects you and thus warrants you exercising your influence. Typically, you must work with others in this circle – you can’t effectively get the outcome most beneficial to you without the help of others. Thus, we spend much of our time in the Circle of Influence.

Finally, the Circle of Concern contains everything that concerns you, but that you don’t have any control over. There are times, particularly in the short term, when it is important to realize those things – that realization can bring a lot of relief.  IE, your children may do what they do; the polar bears may die; China may soon take over the world in carbon; etc.

The trick to this circle is to expand the Circle of Influence into that Circle of Concern. Thus, much of change is about helping individuals, companies, governments, non-profits, know that they CAN do something that will positively impact the world around them.

Expanding your Circle of Influence

There are books and books written on how to “Increase Your Influence NOW!” and “Be a More Influential Person!” They describe mainly tactics – not fundamentals – for increasing your influence, including trading favors, complimenting the right person, putting your best foot forward. And while these tactics may be helpful when used wisely, they are like dust in comparison to a person who is filled with integrity and character, whose results and competence are trusted, and who shows discernment in how they exert and increase their influence.

So, how do you expand your Circle of Influence? Here are a few fundamentals.

  1. Know Thyself.The fundamental lives on. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedbackand making appropriate changes, knowing your values and vision for your personal life is where you have to begin. Starting from there, you will attract people and build respect because of your clarity.
  2. Be Trustworthy. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Live to your commitments to yourself and to others. By doing that, you build trust which you can draw on when you need it most – making a change for something you believe in.
  3. Exhibit Competence & Follow-Through. Trust does not come without Respect. Let me repeat – Trust does not come without Respect.In our intellectually driven, outcomes-oriented culture, respect comes when people show they “can get the job done.” Doing whatever it takes to be really, really good at what you do, whether it is developing skills, exhibiting willpower and perserverence, or being clear about what you can and can’t do, delivering results based on competence and character is the fastest way to build respect.

I am a huge fan of a book written by Stephen Covey’s son, Stephen M. R. Covey, called The Speed of TrustThere, he talks about how business happens much faster – and I would add that change happens much easier – when there is trust. He also discusses how people can build their own “trustworthiness”, through exhibiting character, integrity, competence, and results, and gives some keys to developing trustworthiness yourself. Highly recommended read.

Using Influence to Create Change

Back to change. A leader who wants to make a fundamental change – whether or not this leader has authority – can do so by weaving a wide web of influence. Building trust amongst your community (professional, personal, and everything in between) builds your influence.

In a sense, you have built up, over time, the slow way, a sort of “Influence bank account.” Stephen M.R. Covey goes so far as to call it a “Trust Account.” So how do you spend it?

A few tips on Creating Change through Using Your Influence:

  1. Choosing your battles. In this world, discerning which battles are worth taking on is an important one. Battling everything and everyone to get your way (or the way of a select few) can pay off if there are results. But if the strain of the risk is too great, and it doesn’t “pan out” (a reference to the might risky business of panning for gold) it can actually break down people’s willingness to follow you when they most need to.
  2. You have to spend it to make it. Building “social capital” by making introductions, helping people out, taking risks on changes you and your team believe it actually builds trust not only in your team, but also in the organization at large. Because you arechoosing your battles, you develop a reputation for taking thoughtful risks – and when you believe strongly that something needs to change, people will pay attention because of that.
  3. Keep your eye on what’s best for the collective, and make sure it stays there. As soon as people know that you are promoting self over the collective, they will begin to question your motives. If your “trust account” is high, that is not a big deal, particularly if you are transparent about it. But the greater the change you are proposing, the greater the need for a large “trust account”, and the more you need to keep an eye on promoting the collective over the self.

Book Review: The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage took all of us at Global Genesis by storm. Since reading it, I have since referred many clients and consultants to it, have used it or referred to it in almost every client engagement since, and am looking forward to incorporating it in my client work as I move forward.

Why? Because Patrick Lencioni (who is known best for his “business fables” in books like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) did a fabulous job of synthesizing – and really renewing  – work that has been lynch pins of organizational development for decades.  He takes great ideas from Chrys Argyris(Systems Thinking), Jim Collins(Good to Great), Stephen Covey (7 Habits) – who of course, were working from other great masters – and boils it down into simple clear directions, a cohesive framework, and practical guidance.  His framing – that organizations must be healthy to succeed – is brilliant, his defense of that idea is cogent.  He has done a service to not only his clients, but to change agents who have been looking to help others understand why things like goal -setting, teamwork, conflict, and communication make such a difference.

Specifically, he offers four disciplines that support organizational health:

Four Disciplines to Organizational Health
Four Disciplines to Organizational Health

These are of course explained in detail in his book.  They are not rocket science – but one must do them to create advantage, and that is where it can be challenging.  But he does well in making the steps appear clear, accessible, and doable.

I highly recommend this book!

The Process of Transition

Change. Whether it is in your family, in your team, in your organization, the psychological ramifications of change are powerful, subtle, and themselves temper a person, as much as the event itself.

The Process of Transition
The Process of Transition

The Process of Transition

The model described above is a take-off from Dr. Kubler-Ross’ work on grief and transition; she wrote her book On Death and Dying in the 1970s, and her thinking was an enormous contribution to understanding transition and change of all types.

My own experience with death of close loved ones has helped me understand the process of change both in myself and others.  As a result, I have become more and more accustomed to managing change – I have come to expect the wave of emotions sweeping myself and those around me; I have started to look for the joy in the situation, as there always is; I have been able to help others accept what is happening as well.   Kubler-Ross’ model has been accurate from my own experience – from anxiety, to the awkwardness of happiness and denial, to the lows of guilt and even depression.

And, I too have been “derailed”  – at times from the natural process of change, into denial or hostility. Even more common is to get “stuck” in a certain feeling – the nervous feeling of guilt that never quite goes away; the fear or anxiety around the future; the depression.

Change in Organizations

As leaders, it is important to understand the process of transition, and how it applies to the company as a whole. While useful, the process is not nearly as neat as described in the model above; people may experience only pieces of the cycle. They may get stuck, they may move rapidly all the way through. There may be several iterations, as multiple levels of what the change really implies sinks in. They may experience some, not all of the stages.

A leader who is aware of the possible psychological impacts of change will be looking for them. They will meet people “where they are at” – accepting that the likelihood of an impact is high, to be expected, and not in itself too worrying – unless someone gets stuck. By not attempting to change them instantaneously towards acceptance (through tactics like “forcing,” “selling,” etc.) they leave open the opportunity for that person to make the transition themselves, and thus integrate it fully. Strong-armed tactics can actually damage the trust and respect a staff member has for its leader.

To protect herself and the organization must make options clear for those who may not wish to accept the change, and may need to provide resources, psychological or otherwise, as people work through a transition. An organization must keep moving, and can only “wait” so long for its members to catch up.

As Peter Drucker so aptly puts it:

Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work — on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself — it must be organized for constant change.

A change may mean a realignment of values; in that process, the change may spur other changes, in terms of who wants to stay, and who doesn’t. A savvy leader heads into that “ready to ride the roller coaster” to the other end.

Book Review: Political Savvy – Systematic Approaches to Leadership Behind the Scenes

Last year I was thinking hard about how to help people with the “politics” of change.  Many people see “politics” as something to be avoided.  Political Savvy – Systematic Approaches to Leadership Behind the Scenes takes a fresh and extremely rational look at the natural politics of organizations.

What I liked: Dr. DeLuca identifies 9 different “players”, ranging from the passive and cynical to the “active and ethical” players.  This book encourages people to become “active, ethical players” that choose to make a strategic difference in their organizations.  These players are savvy: they know how to identify resistance to change; and they know who can help them overcome that resistance in a way that serves the greater good.  And they assume that organizations are not inherently rational; rather, they are made up of humans that try to be rational but who also operate from a framework of emotions and interests that are uniquely individual.

Following are a couple of tips for “influencing behind the scenes” that I particularly liked:

1.  Dr. DeLuca is skeptical about decision-making in large groups.  Instead, he recommends a “Many-Few-Many-Few ” approach. 

  • MANY: Essentially – brainstorm, but don’t decide – in a large groups.  Large groups tend to be best at creativity and energy – but as many of us know, they are not good at wordsmithing, working though logistics, or weighing the whole against the enthusiasm of a crowd.
  • FEW:  So, bring the options back to a few with authority and responsibility to make the change.
  • MANY: Then – and this is key – bring it back to the whole for comments, input, feedback, and clarity.
  • FEW:  Then, finalize the decision with the same, responsible few.

2.  “Never go into a decision-making meeting without knowing that 51% or more of its participants understand and are open to discussion about the proposed change.” 

  • This is a particularly critical piece of thinking here, and he even says that if it is the one thing that readers take from the book, he is happy.  Essentially – recall a time that you sat in a meeting, and you said, bursting with enthusiasm, “Hey, I think we should do this really great thing!”  And, your fantastic idea was ignored.  Perhaps there was silence, perhaps the group kept going like they hadn’t even heard it, or perhaps someone outright said “That is a terrible idea!”  And then, 15 minutes later, the same idea was offered – perhaps even by the person who said it was a terrible idea – and the group enthusiastically exclaimed, “What a fantastic idea!  Why didn’t I think of that???”  (Yes, you are usually pouting at that point.)
  •  Dr. DeLuca also noted that phenomenon, and there are a lot of probable reasons for that; perhaps an innate adversity to change inside humans, perhaps the political landscape of the moment.  But he says that the dynamic changes entirely when the politically savvy  warm the temperature of the room by introducing the idea before the meeting – to more than half the group.  It is not that everyone has to agree, but by introducing the idea, you help create conditions for a better and more productive conversation – in a way that doesn’t lead to a lost idea, wasted meeting time, or loss of face for you.

The book has been extremely helpful to me as I advise clients within organizations how to manage change, or clients who are engaged in “inter-organizational” collaborations.  The book also contains a system for mapping alliances that is extremely helpful for the champion of change.

I was so excited about his work that I reached out to see if there were a workshop for me to become better trained in his tools.  It was then that I discovered that Dr. DeLuca passed away in 2008.  May he rest in the deepest peace.

Tactics for Leading Change

A leader is pondering, what is the best way to approach my staff about sustainability? How do I create a vision that others will share with me, so I am not a lone wolf, howling in a wilderness of cubicles?

Great question!

Part of this question is answered by the qualities that the leader actually possesses. Talking about sustainability or any other change won’t be effective unless the change agent is trusted by the people she is trying to influence.

Influence, by the way, whether you have authority in an organization or not, is the only capital that really works to create long-term, behavioral change. Letting go of any ideas you may have about being able to enforce a change is helpful in this process – after all, as a colleague of mine, John Springer says –

You can lead by Inspiration, or Desperation. Which do you choose?

But back to strategies for change. We will talk more about leadership later.

The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter Senge et al., (a classic work on systems thinking in organizational development) makes the point that leaders want to create the commitment and focus that a shared vision can bring to an organization. Building a Shared Vision can do just that.

Bryan Smith’s article in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook discusses 5 starting points for building shared vision. He notes that different organizations should start at different places, given the practical realities of where different companies are. (The following is a direct excerpt from his article, on p.314.)

  1. Telling: The “boss” knows what the vision should be, and the organization is going to have to follow it;
  2. Selling: The “boss” knows what the vision should be, but needs the organization to “buy in” before proceeding;
  3. Testing: The “boss” has an idea about what the vision should be, or several ideas, and wants to know the organization’s reactions, before proceeding;
  4. Consuliting: The “boss” is putting together a vision, and wants creative input from the organization before proceeding;
  5. Co-creating: The “boss” and “members” of the organization, through a collaborative process, build a shared vision together.

He makes the point that before proceeding, you should objectively assess where your company is, and then make a plan for how to move to the next stage.

Figuring out Where You Should Start – A Case Study

I have a client who is transitioning from one leader to another leader. The old leader had a fairly traditionalist model; he asked people to do what they should do, and expected that they follow through with what he asked them to.

The new leader had a very different idea; while he wasn’t entirely sure how, he knew that he wanted his staff to work as a team; to be self-motivated to improve the company. We started with an executive team teambuilding, and from there, discussed how to help his whole company work differently.

He had a vision of teamwork – but had to go about it differently depending on who in the company he was working with. With his executive team, we had spent three days together building trust and respect, co-creating a vision for the company, agreeing on strategy. We then spent many months working together as a team over time. With them, he used a combination of testing, consulting, and co-creating. The Executive Team wanted strong leadership from him, as they had received in the past, but still usually wanted to consult – a significant change from how it had been in the past. But as the Executive Team itself became stronger, they also became stronger, more creative leaders with their own staff, and likewise more attached to co-creating together as an Executive Team. Now, they negotiate about when they will co-create, when they will consult with the leader, and when the leader will test with them, but reserve the right to make the decision.

But the company leader also wanted to change how the rest of his staff would work together. And the rest of the company was more accustomed to a strong authority figure who governed mostly through telling, as opposed to a leader who was willing to share some of his authority in exchange for increased creativity and commitment on their part. For his staff, this leader spends some time telling, a lot of time selling, and has been making inroads to testing and consulting, with specific individuals or committees, at specific times. Quite a bit of his tactic has been to negotiate the boundaries of collaboration over time, so that both he and the company get what they need to keep the company running. Some initiatives have worked well; some are still a work-in-progress.

So, how does this translate to creating a successful change initiative?

As a change agent, depending on the authority you have, you will have to assess for yourself who is ready for co-creating, and who is not. There are many factors that influence how someone is ready – the level of trust, the expectations and history between the parties, how willing the different parties are to negotiate their needs. It is a risky thing for a leader to allow his authority to be handed over to the decision of the group. In fact, in this case, there was a point when the Executive Team and Company Leader handed its authority over too quickly, without thorougly laying out the boundaries of what they needed to make sure the company stayed on track as a whole. Everyone ended up unsatisfied with the results, and the leaders had to back-track to telling. Fortunately, enough trust and respect had been built up at that point that the loss wasn’t nearly as significant as it would have been the year before.

Both the leader and the group have to be ready for co-creating. Both have to be practiced at asking for what they need, as well as giving in return.

However, there are ways to fast-track to co-creating a vision. Next posting – how do you create a vision? And how can you fast-track it to achieve long-term commitment and focus?