Collaboration Keys

In today’s complex world, collaboration is indispensable. Yet too often, it is a vague aspiration or buzz word. stepping stones across pondGood news! You can teach your team and whole organization language keys that unlock collaborative behavior.

Key #1. Sharing your street corner

When a group is wrestling with a high-stakes or contentious issue, encourage better listening and prevent unhelpful conflict by asking people to “share their street corner.” The phrase invites people to realize that they are speaking from a particular standpoint.

When Joan says, “this is how I see this issue from my street corner,” several things happen. She shows awareness that she speaks from a particular context, for example, her job function or stakeholder point of view. Because the other group members recognize the phrase “sharing your street corner,” they get curious to know more about her viewpoint.┬áThe phrase also encourages Joan’s colleagues to share┬átheir street corner.

In a recent meeting where I introduced this phrase, group members realized that misunderstanding had developed because two manager groups live on different street corners. Once the groups understood their different viewpoints, they explored sources and results of the difference. The meeting helped group members “cross the street” to talk and, eventually, work toward the common “interests of the neighborhood.”

Key #2. Share notions

When it’s time to think about problem solutions or ideas for a change, begin by using the term “notions” instead of “solutions.” A notion suggests one possibility among many. It means “this is just a thought” and doesn’t drive a stake in the ground. Notions encourage a free exchange of ideas that broaden people’s perspectives.

The language of notions also helps prevent two ways teams get stuck. Maybe you’ve seen a group make a bee line toward a solution without entertaining other options or even clearly defining the issue. When the group has a shared understanding about “notions,” they can get unstuck when a group member gives a cue like, “Let’s treat this solution as a notion. What are other options?”

Another way groups get stuck is by spending so much time gathering ideas that they leave no time to evaluate them, make choices and solidify action plans. When your group lingers too long in the world of notions, you can say, “okay, we’ve got several notions. Now let’s analyze them so we can make good choices.”

Thanks to collaboration experts Miller and Katz for these helpful phrases.

Key #3. Speak to the fire.

Imagine your team conference table as a circle with a fire in the middle. When uncomfortable issues arise, the group can handle them openly when group members “speak to the fire” instead of aiming at other group members.

When Derek hears a colleague on the Quality Improvement team defend a process that he feels is broken, he knows he has to speak up. He says, “I’m going to speak to the fire here. My experience is that this process continues to cause delays.”

There is disagreement here–but no blame. “Speak to the fire” is in-common language that invites risk-taking, acknowledges discomfort and prevents blaming.

“Speak to the fire” comes from a collaborative method called the Circle Way.

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