We need to do more than cooperate—we need true collaboration to lead us into the future.
Imagine you’re hosting a potluck dinner. Everyone will bring a dish that they know how to make well and that they think people will like, right? But as Frances Valintine, the founder of the Tech Futures Lab, explained on our Lead the Future podcast, that’s not true collaboration.
“There’s been no learning,” Valintine said. “There’s been no ability to do things together. So that is an example of cooperation.” Collaboration has to be a deeper process. In the potluck analogy, that would look something like bringing a bunch of ingredients to the table and everyone learning to make a new recipe together, Valintine said.
That kind of deeper collaboration is what’s needed to meet the challenges of the future, Valentine told us. “How do we get people mixing and mingling and learning amongst people who are not like them so they’re not operating in the same bubble?” she asked. “Part of it is learning new skills and understanding how to bring divergent skills and thoughts together into one collective process.”
WHY IT MATTERS:
The world is changing rapidly. We need new ways of thinking to keep up.
“Humanity is going through a really big transition right now in terms of how it thinks about the future,” Valintine told us. We’re seeing that on multiple fronts. For one thing, the COVID crisis created a kind of “circuit breaker” that forced people to shift their thinking and realize that things really can change overnight, Valintine said.
But the changes Valintine is talking about go well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, there’s technological change; there’s also climate change and the way younger generations, in particular, are thinking about sustainability. Valintine also emphasized the demographic change and the tension we’re seeing between the older generations who are current leaders in our organizations, and the younger, rising generations, who think very differently.
All of these changes push us to think in new ways. And that requires us to not simply work alongside our colleagues, but learn from them and challenge our thinking.
Some leaders are resistant to change.
“Here in New Zealand, strangely enough, we talk about sheep,” Valintine said. “Inside a paddock, if you have sheep in a corner and you stand back, they ignore you. But as you start to encroach onto the space, they start to react. As you get closer, they often will try to run at you, it’s sort of a defense mechanism. I feel there’s a little bit of that happening right now with some of the old guards who are feeling this encroaching change that is coming in, and they’re not sure what to do with it.”
Valintine highlighted a real problem in many organizations today. We’re seeing it clearly with the resistance to hybrid or remote work—many senior leaders simply aren’t willing to learn new ways of working. They want to go back to the pre-pandemic habits they’re comfortable with. But change can’t be stopped, and leaders who try will end up holding themselves and their organizations back. The better move, according to Valintine, is to practice real collaboration and learn new ways of thinking.
WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
Good collaboration starts with clear rules.
“All good collaboration starts with rules around engagement, participation, and the ability to be open and honest without judgement,” Valintine told us in a follow-up conversation. Here’s one strategy she suggested:
“I’m a big fan of flipped preparation, where participants in a meeting are provided prior-reading before a collaborative session that is then used as a conversation starter, where everyone is asked to share their views and thoughts in an open and honest way. There should be an expectation that everyone contributes to this opening conversation so that the session starts with a high level of engagement and energy. The background reading could be a simple headline and news article relating to the session, a report or even a short video/documentary.”Frances Valintine, Founder of The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab
Setting ground rules in advance can help set expectations. When people know how they’re expected to contribute, they can prepare and do some thinking ahead of time. As a leader, make sure you’re setting clear expectations for collaborative sessions with your team.
- The challenge of collaboration in a hybrid world
- How to enable remote collaboration
- The ultimate guide to effective collaboration in the workplace
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