Skills and talents

by Jini Stolk

As you know, I’ve never really bought into the idea that collaboration can be learned despite the wide-spread call among nonprofits and for-profit companies for skills-development in this area.

I’ve observed that some people leap eagerly at opportunities to work collaboratively while others are dragged to such work warily and reluctantly; in my experience, results are commensurate with enthusiasm.

I just had the opportunity to attend an ONN workshop on “Regional Networks & Policy Connections for a Thriving Nonprofit Sector” led by Liz Rykert, the founder of MetaStrategies and a big systems thinker about how we make change. She’s a believer in the importance of stepping back from time to time, to think about what we’re doing and understand how and why collaboration and networking build impact.

Her simple observation – that collaboration requires a combination of talents and skills that can be learned – resolves my dilemma.

It seems to me that networking at its essence is people coming together and reaching wide to achieve something they can’t achieve alone; it requires all the attributes of collaboration – leadership, knowledge sharing, listening, diverse skills, and trust – expanded.

In the corporate world, this is becoming known as creating “cross functional teams,” which are being used to tackle new, innovative, or complex tasks. According to the Globe and Mail, these teams are hard to manage and prone to disagreement and deadlock, so it’s important to be highly selective when forming teams, and recruit people who are comfortable with a collegial and open process. As I was saying…

Once again, collaboration is language and behavior in which “each participant, released from vanity, inhibition, and preconceptions, treats the contributions of others as material to make with, not as positions to argue with so that new and unpredictable ideas emerge.” In a group working collaboratively, “individual members relinquish sovereignty over their work and thus create something none could have made alone: a whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

Everyone on a collaborative team fulfills their own role independently and excellently, yet everyone’s efforts are fully focused on the overall goal. It requires mutual respect and generosity of spirit.

It’s an exciting way to work because people don’t collaborate or form networks when they’re discouraged or pessimistic: they do so when they believe they can make a difference by working together. Artists and arts organizations, bringing their many talents and skills to bear, tend to collaborate well.

For more, check out this paper by SideraWorks, a social business consulting firm, on why creating value, investing in ideas and discovering untapped internal knowledge is possible when you help teams work together; and this piece from the pARTnership Movement on What Improv Can Teach Your Team About Creativity And Collaboration. (See? I told you improv was good.)

If you’d like to delve deeper into how to enable successful innovations through collaboration, Liz Rykert is hosting a full-day workshop on Liberating Structures, novel, practical and effective methods to get everyone fully engaged. It’s on  June 11, 2014 at the St. James Cathedral Centre on 65 Church St. It costs $150.00 plus HST; register here.

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