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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Creating a culture of collaboration

1:29:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg No comments
Creating a culture of collaboration requires hard work, work that never ends. Any parent should know this. A well-functioning family requires the family members, at the very least the parents, to collaborate with each other - with as little friction as possible. Very few of us (I have four kids) are as successful as we want to be to be, or should be, for our own good and for the good of our family. Other things, such as work and the need to spend time for ourselves, create conflicts of interest and a scarcity of resources (time, energy) that limit our ability to act as leaders and change agents in our own families.

For one thing, creating a culture of collaboration within a family requires you to constantly explain, demonstrate and remind yourself and the other family members about the benefits of collaborating, both for the individual ("What's in it for me?") and for the group ("What's in it for us?"). It needs to be made obvious that there's a win-win situation if all family members contribute and collaborate. Here’s an example: if everyone helps out to clean the table after dinner, then we can get time and energy to do something as a family afterwards.

As a parent, a major challenge is to help my children learn these things. And I need to avoid the appealing shortcuts which help to solve a specific situation, but which don't create any sustainable changes in the values and behaviors of the children. It is really easy to fall into the trap of just doing things that trigger your children's extrinsic motivation, such as promising them something in return for their contributions such as money, candy, or even seemingly good things such as giving them a sticker star whenever they contribute. The problem with these triggers is that your children won't really understand the benefits that their contributions will give to the other family members and to the family as a whole. As a consequence, they won't make voluntary contribution. They will always expect and require some kind of external motivation to contribute; and when there is none, they will won’t.

Here’s another example: if you need to ask and promise something in return to make your child empty the trash can when it's full, he or she won't learn why it is important to empty it and how emptying it helps both individuals (taking work load off your parents who do a lot of the other work at home) and the group (no smelly full trash can, somewhere to throw new trash, less frustrated parents who don't take their frustration out on each other, or worse, on the children). Your child will learn that someone else solves the problem.

The only sustainable solution is to make the sight of a full trash can trigger your child’s intrinsic motivation; if your child empties the trash can, he/she will get satisfaction from the task itself, knowing that it contributes to the well-being of the family and that other family members will appreciate the contribution, independent of whether or not they express this explicitly. Knowing they will is enough motivation to carry out the task and get satisfaction from doing it.

What makes building a culture of collaboration hard is that it requires constant work and awareness. You have to consciously think about and practice collaboration im every situation where it benefits the individual and/or the group until the collaborative behavior in that kind of situation happens "naturally" in the sense that we have programmed ourselves how to behave and do not need to spend mental energy - the collaboration auto-pilot is on.

A key lesson to make when trying to achieve this in a business context is that if you leave out the fun, autonomy, trust, creativity, the sense of engagement, then not much more than extrinsic motivators such as monetary rewards exist to build a culture of collaboration – and then you are on the road to failure for sure.

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