Patterns of Collaboration

In this month’s Change the World blog posting, Royce offers four patterns of effective collaboration and a tool for teams to self-assess their own patterns. Use her patterns to assess your own collaborations and to identify steps you can take to be even more collaborative. 

change the world

According to, “collaborate” means to work together or cooperate to accomplish a task. But what does it really take for a group of unique individuals to come together to create a true collaboration? The definition tells us what to do, but the question people often ask is how to do that.

In times of rapid and complex change, one of the most common challenges clients share is about how to create and sustain effective collaboration. Leaders ask employees, who otherwise are highly professional, skilled contributors, to work as a team to accomplish a task or series of tasks. Sometimes, the teams take off, creating relationships and activities that move them toward assigned goals. Other times, however, leaders find that teams they create move into internal conflict or unhealthy competition, and are unable to move toward set goals. What makes the difference?

In HSD, we move beyond surface challenges to explore the underlying patterns of interaction and decision making that shape the culture of a team. Exploring those patterns together and asking team members to track their own progress on more productive patterns engages them in a different level of accountability and action.

We have identified a set of patterns that contribute to generative interactions and collaboration. 

  • Engage in shared Adaptive Action. Sharing work in a team is about sharing decision making and expertise to plan the next wise action. Members of effective teams consider current and desired patterns of the whole system, and then gauge the potential impact of shared and individual decisions on those patterns. They consider the whole of the project, rather than just the portion that is their own responsibility. Shared Adaptive Action does not ask any individual to ignore their own accountabilities or to abdicate their responsibilities. What it requires is that decisions about those accountabilities and responsibilities are informed by the needs and perspectives of the whole team and the desired outcomes at the larger scale, as well as by needs and perspectives of the smaller pieces.
  • Grant and generate voice. In collaborative work, team members engage with each other to understand the work to be done, to negotiate differences that matter, and to take wise action toward greater whole system functioning. In HSD we talk about responsibilities inherent in these engagements. Each person grants voice to others, with the intent to understand what’s being said, both verbally and nonverbally. At the same time, each individual generates voice by speaking clearly and completely, by avoiding jargon and hidden messages, and by making sure their messages meet others’ needs. Granting and generating voice in a collaborative relationship depends on the ability to stand in inquiry. Collaborators put aside judgments, disagreements, and assumptions to engage deeply with their colleagues and co-workers.
  • Give and take productively. Each individual in a team brings unique information and perspective to the work to be done. Successful collaboration depends on the degree to which each of those individuals share their unique expertise and questions, accept what others bring, and negotiate across differences that emerge. This level of reciprocity and personal authenticity allows for richer, more resilient responses that take advantage of the wealth of expertise in the collaboration.
  • Share access to resources. Collaboration calls for equitable access among the collaborators. Whatever they need—information, fiscal or material resources, time, influence—has to be distributed across the whole in equitable and accessible ways. When regulations or policies preclude full sharing, as in the case of personnel confidentiality, for example, what matters is that each individual has the information or resources they need, with full understanding of any constraints that may exist around that access.

Each person takes on accountability for setting conditions in individual and shared work to shape these patterns, and the team’s shared Adaptive Actions allow for constant shifting and responding to needs in the system. In sharing the responsibility for shaping these patterns, each member of the team moves to a greater level of understanding the system’s needs and contributing to the greater success of the whole.

This month’s Change the World model offers a way for you to assess your own performance, individually or as a team, on each of these patterns. Not to be considered as an end in itself, this assessment offers a springboard for shared exploration of the questions it might surface. Use it with your team to see where you currently stand and open a conversation about how you can bring shared work to new levels of collaborative performance. Let us know what you learn.

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