Collaboration: the art of co-creation

The word ‘collaboration’ seems to have entered mainstream business language and I am aware that it means slightly different things to different people. However, the biggest variance I see is in HOW different organisations go about fostering collaboration. The paragraphs below are some thoughts and ideas about how we go about this, based on my experience.

Peter Senge talks of a ‘collaboration continuum’ with different levels of collaboration moving from Tell => Sell => Test => Consult => Co-create. To explain this, let’s take the example of strategy development. When developing strategy a leader could use any one of these methods and they would each look like this:

  • Tell => the leader figures out the strategy and then presents it to everyone
  • Sell => the leader figures out the strategy and then presents it in a compelling way, tailoring it for different audiences
  • Test => the leader creates a ‘straw man’ strategy, something that is not yet complete, then takes it out to test with different audiences. The strategy is then developed based on the feedback received.
  • Consult => the leader consults with different audiences before putting the strategy together
  • Co-create => the leader works with a leadership team to co-create a strategy together.

It is worth pointing out that practical experience shows it is most effective to use several of these options, rather than any one in isolation. For examples, a leadership team might co-create a strategy, which they then test with the next layer of management. They then refine the strategy and sell the strategy to the wider organisation, to enable them to co-create the strategy deployment plans.

There is an interesting dilemma that I see time and time again. The dilemma of time over commitment, and therefore business impact. A lot of work that is done in the modes on the left of this continuum is done for expediency, rather than a conscious decision based on the impact required. So, if we continue with the theme of strategy, I see so many leaders presenting strategy and then wondering why it doesn’t happen. This is a consequence of the low depth of understanding and commitment developed in an audience experiencing Tell alone.

Although co-creation can take longer initially the overall impact is that is accelerates work. It avoids the delays caused by misunderstanding and inertia. Think about how many times you have been in meetings where nothing has happened afterwards. This usually happens because the level of collaboration is not sufficient to drive the commitment needed to get action from people.

This model is incredibly powerful. I have worked with it for years. However, it does not show the exponential increase in commitment that I have experienced between Consult and Co-Create. If you just think about your own experience and the difference between how connected you feel to something when someone merely asks you opinion versus when someone asks you to work through something with them. How committed do you feel about the outcomes in each situation?

The issue with commitment is that it is hard to SEE. We live in a cognitive business world where we like to be able to see progress. A leader can easily track progress of how many countries and sites they have visited to present their strategy. Unfortunately, at the end of each session the leader can’t see how committed people are. It would be so much easier if everyone had little commitment gauges on their foreheads, like the power gauges we get in batteries. Likewise, the long term business impact of Tell / Sell strategy deployment is rarely measured. Happy sheets at the end of a town hall meeting are not a measure of strategy deployment!

Please don’t think I am advocating co-creation for everything! It is impossible to run a business this way and misguided co-creation has its own frustrations. What I am advocating is that business managers and leaders make informed choices about the level of collaboration needed and then use the appropriate tools and techniques. From my own experience, I know how important it is for a leader to be sure they want to co-create before engaging in this kind of work, as it requires a degree of ‘letting go’ that can feel uncomfortable for some people. Once the decision is made to co-create then the preparation is key. Getting really clear about the purpose of the work and any ‘givens’, sets the framework for the co-creation. Then, when you are in the work, specialist group dynamic expertise is essential to enable the leader to be free to engage and lead in the meeting, rather than be managing the group.

Meeting Magic has expertise in supporting managers and leaders in all levels of collaboration, to accelerate work done in groups and deliver maximum impact. If you are doing some work with a group where you need to be ‘in’ the group, leading them rather than managing group dynamics, then please give us a call to find out how we can support you.

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