Designing the transition into collaborating

Transitions are often perilous undertakings which fail to get to a new place and stay there. Like infamous New Year's Resolutions and flamboyant attempts at weight loss, the sought-after change does not endure. A transition into collaborations is equally vulnerable to regressive tendencies, old habits and avoidance strategies. An effective transition process needs to be designed for the difficulties involved.

A. Unfamiliar experiences with collaborating can make newbies feel vulnerable, insecure and awkward. Their resilience, confidence and competence may elude them when they are not working alone, complying with commands or competing against others. A successful transition would provide these people with early successes to convince themselves "I can do this" and "this works for me". Leaving them to "sink or swim" or "get the hang of this on their own" does not improve the success rate.

B. New experiences with collaborating can be easily misread by inexperienced participants. Indications of mutual respect, valued diversity and trust in the shared process can give them the wrong impression. Frames of reference from legacy practices can distort what is actually occurring. Collaborations can look like "getting controlled by others", "failing to stand up for what is right" or "letting others win for no good reason". A transition is helped by learning a new "viewers guide" and practicing "calling the plays from the sideline" to gain experience with collaborative frames of reference.

C. Unfamiliar experiences with collaborating can arouse doubts, suspicious and gloomy predictions. Newbies may begin to expect the worst, fear the consequences of this mistake and regret their decision to give it a "go". Those who defend themselves from new experiences with negative questions will succeed at finding answers that make themselves right. They can ask themselves "how futile is this?" or "when will people realize this is not working?" and effectively sabotage their involvement. A well designed transition acknowledges the habitual use of negative questions and explores the use of appreciative inquiry to engage and empower each person's involvement. Letting everyone question the collaboration however they please sets up the working together to fail in the end.

D. New experiences with collaborating can induce a lot of cognitive dissonance. The so-called "change for the better" can evoke experiences of loss, injustice or sacrifice. The transition can appear to the people making the adjustment that their hot buttons are getting pushed, their values are getting invalidated and their confidence is getting shattered. An effective transition design anticipates this interference from previous identification with successful past practices, idolized roles models and heroics without anyone's assistance. It occasionally works to simply acknowledge these cognitive dynamics as if people merely need to feel understood, validated and respected as is. More often, a more strategic intervention is required where these alarmist reactions are "prescribed as appropriate", "given permission to persist" and "framed as solutions to be fully utilized until new responses come to mind".

Each of these four design responses make the transition more complex. The designed system is capable of responding to a wider variety of disruptive factors without crashing. The transition is prepared for more of what can go wrong so the overall process goes right. The effective design keeps the "troublemakers from making trouble". The experience gives those in transition a sense of orientation and safety rather than a feeling of being lost and abandoned. The process of becoming an insider builds their trust in collaborating. They feel cared for, valued as participants and included in what was expected.

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