Collaboration comes and goes

Our state of mind supports collaboration with others when we're feeling safe. We can feel safe when there is an absence of danger, threats and enemies. We can alternatively feel safe by ganging up together against opponents which then achieves "safety in numbers". I suspect the collaborations that emerge from feeling safe are not the same between these two conditions. When there is no danger present, it's likely we can get creative, compassionate, caring and capable of serving others' interests effectively. When we're establishing safety against others, it's more likely the collaboration would be more accurately described as collusion, conspiracy, conformity and cohesion. When we're anxiety-ridden, we lose our tolerance for deviance, our trust in others and our willingness to let go of preconceptions.

The ups and downs of business cycles impact the state of mind of nearly everyone within an enterprise. Anytime the economy, market, rivals or internal mismanagement poses some danger, a collaborative enterprise under siege could easily regress to collusion, conspiracy, conformity and cohesion. This would fail to protect the brand, win back customers, or attract essential talent when hiring again. The loss of genuine collaboration could put an enterprise into a downward spiral without the resourcefulness to pull itself out.

This outlook on collaboration gives me a picture of a socio-technical system. The state of mind that gets creative, compassionate, caring and capable of serving others' interests effectively is the system's core technology. The system crashes when these collaborative dynamics get disrupted by external turbulence. The failure to buffer the core and respond capably to the turbulence exposes deep flaws in the system design. Besides the obvious failures in the industry segment, customers' perceptions and job market, internal failures would multiply. I would expect to see:
  • a loss of sustaining innovations, extensions of successful products and upgrades of services
  • an inability to learn from what's occurring, get the message in all this feedback and change directions
  • a series of leadership failures, bad decisions and flawed policy changes
  • an excess of committee meetings, upbeat conferences and enforcement of positive attitudes

When collaboration is protected by a viable socio-technical system, this spiral of potential setbacks gets averted. The potential disaster gets foreseen and forestalled. The state of mind which supports genuine collaboration gets regarded as the "goose that lays the golden eggs". Leadership acts quickly to create safety, provide buffers from turbulence, protect essentials with added resources and nurture the collaborations that then come about.


  1. In addition to collusion, conspiricy, group think. Being so afraid of the outside factors, group members are afraid to disagree with those within their group. As a result, they just ignore warning signs because they are afraid it will make them weaker. What is ironic is that they are weaker because they don't disagree.

  2. Great insights Virginia! Besides avoiding weakness by agreeing at all cost, I've seen people fit that same avoidance pattern by being needy, clinging and desperate about not losing a relationship. They cannot imagine that strength could come from independence, being different and having a voice that disagrees for good reasons.

    Thanks for the comment.