Mapping Supports: Where Do Yours Lie?
The purpose of this activity is to identify, articulate, and discuss the various types of supports that may help the collaborative process.
There are as many supports to good collaboration as there are obstacles that get in the way of the process. Below, we lay out several types of supportive categories, made more vivid by examples from those involved in collaborative work.
Communication (includes having a voice, feeling “heard”)
Good communication is crucial to the success of the shared work. Highly valued characteristics include a willingness and ability to work through difficulty, honesty, sensitivity to others, and good listening skills. Here are two examples from our data:
-I sense that these guys really listen to me, and I really listen to them, and we influence each other so that sort of mantra, “Listen, learn and change,” is really there. I feel like already my thinking has changed… I consider that short, small, but already a successful collaboration.
-It’s always been astonishing to me… how people don’t tell the truth because they think it’s to their advantage to tell a different story. And when you don’t tell the truth and it becomes known that you failed to tell the truth, you lose trust, and it is virtually impossible to ever regain trust or work again in a collaborative environment with that individual, or pretty soon with any other individual or groups, if you are known to fail to tell the truth.
Engagement (feelings of unity, buy-in of participants, sense of purpose behind the work, unified vision, unity of purpose)
Engagement in the work itself is crucial to keeping the collaborative effort moving forward. It is achieved when there is a shared understanding about the purpose of the collaboration, common beliefs about the value of the work, or beliefs about the ways in which the work can be carried out.
-[To have] people from different home bases who are united with something that they’re idealistic and passionate about … framed in a way that doesn’t have the usual, not just personal, but institutional ego boundaries and then the energy is about the mission and the purpose, that is very rare.
-I think inspiration is important in all of this – that you both need to feel very committed to your work, to the collaboration, to what you can do together that you can’t do apart. But you also need to feel inspired by each other and challenged.
Strong Relationships and Partnerships
Healthy relationships are key to keeping a collaboration running smoothly. Sometimes individuals are familiar to one another prior to the collaboration; sometimes they are just meeting one another for the first time. In either situation, the building of these relationships takes time and regular maintenance. Three very different examples all point to the value of building strong relationships with collaborative partners.
-I think I’m sort of a more cognitively, intellectually-oriented type, and so I always think if the ideas are good and if people have good intentions, whatever. I don’t want to spent time chitchatting and forming the relationships. I’m really bad at the chitchat. But I think it is very important and will sustain a collaboration even when things become problematic, which they always will, no matter how successful the collaboration.
-Even if I’m doing three-quarters of the work and you’re doing one-quarter of the work, but the work that we are both doing is informed by and strengthened by our interactions with each other, that seems to be what’s important.
-[A colleague] said to me, “I’m not going to work with people I don’t like anymore.” I think that what she meant by that was she didn’t want to be engaged in collaborations where all of the energy went into managing the relationship. I don’t think you have to love everybody you work with. I do think you have to respect them. And I do think that you have to be able to separate out the interpersonal stuff in some sense from the work.
What supports are present for you in this collaboration? What supports are present for your collaborative partners? Below, in addition to the supports highlighted above, we list several other potential supports for good collaboration. Please check every item that supports you in your collaborative work:
______ Communication (includes having a voice, feeling “heard”)
______ Engagement (feelings of unity, buy-in of participants, sense of purpose behind the work, unified vision, unity of purpose)
______ Strong Relationships and Partnerships
______Adequate Resources (structure, explicit planning, funding)
______Respect and Trust
______Problem Solving Strategies
______Feeling Valued, Equality Between Collaborators
______Successfully Navigating Culture (national differences, including languages, or organizational cultures)
Look at the above list, select one of the items that you have checked, and discuss it with others in a small group. Offer examples of how this support has enhanced your collaboration.
Choose one item that you have not selected. Can you imagine any way that you might change the nature of your collaboration so that this type of support might be more present in your work?