One of the most profound realisations I’ve made through a decade of collaborative projects in the public sector, is that the essential value of collaboration is to resolve tension. I know it sounds obvious, but what is important about this process, is that the resolution of tension through collaboration is a generative force. It generates things like a problem solved or solution found, a breakthrough made or a friendship forged. This is how collaboration creates and why it can be an effective strategy.
This perspective provides a new way of understanding collaboration: by coming together around a shared purpose, as a result, we generate tensions, in order to resolve them. They are something that we introduce into collaboration, consciously or otherwise and they are the raw material for cocreation. When a tension is resolved through collaboration, it transforms into shared value – a valued outcome or output, newly created through the direct efforts of those involved.
This perspective contrasts the common view of group experience, where tension is a sign of breakdown or failure. In taking this alternate view, tension must be expected, welcomed and even sought. Because, if tensions aren’t surfaced and engaged, then groupthink results – everyone simply going along with the status quo or the most forceful voice – which isn’t collaboration at all.
In practice, this means using constructive approaches to tease out tensions and then doing the actual work of resolving them into shared value. How to do this is the essence of the “art and science of collaboration”. The best methods will vary depending upon the size and nature of your group and its objectives. But as a starting point, try answering these questions:
- Reflecting on your collaborative project or initiative, do you know, sense or feel that there may be unheard or unresolved tensions? Would others in your group agree with your assessment?
- For any tensions that you are aware of (these may be interpersonal, related to methods, process, outcomes or anything really) do you feel like the group has an understanding of their relative priority?
- For your top priority tensions, do you feel your group has the capability needed to resolve them, within your timeframe and resource constraints?
If you felt especially weak or doubtful in any of your responses, consider asking for outside facilitation from someone with substantive experience in conflict resolution, or collaboration in general, who can train and support you. The art of resolving tensions is a little like building a muscle – it can be painful at first, but if you have the right technique and practice regularly it will get easier and faster for the whole team to raise and resolve things together. And that’s when the real power of collaboration starts to shine through.
Feel free to get in touch – exactly these types of challenges are our bread and butter here at Collabforge and we love training teams to become collaborating powerhouses!