Creating a Culture of Collaboration:
The International Association of Facilitators Handbook
Sandor Schuman, Editor
Meaning is what we want. Understanding is what we need. Choices are what we make. Relationships what we have.
Collaboration is hot! In fields as diverse as business, science, recreation, health care, social work, engineering, governance, and libraries, collaboration is seen as the way to address problems, add value, and achieve desired outcomes. Some articles and reports focusing on collaboration, published in just the past year, are highlighted in Exhibit P.1.
Why is interest in collaboration surging? Perhaps it reflects a pragmatic change in strategy to accommodate a diverse, interdependent, and complicated world. Perhaps, too, it indicates support of the values, principles, and beliefs underlying collaboration. These collaborative values, principles, and beliefs, which are reflected throughout this book, warrant our attention.
However, first I should acknowledge a number of concerns about collaboration. Collaboration “with the enemy,” as in the case of Nazi collaborators during World War II, gives the word collaboration a distasteful connotation for many (Mintzberg, Dougherty, Jorgensen, and Westley, 1996). Although this book addresses collaboration in a positive light, caution is nonetheless warranted since collaboration is often used to give one set of individuals or organizations a competitive advantage or dominant position over another. In many cases, collaboration is unlikely to work because of “dispositions against cooperating with prior adversaries, the costs of collaboration in complex social and political systems, the difficulties of engaging in deep conflicts, and leadership incentives favoring control” (McCaffrey, Faerman, and Hart, 1995, p. 603). In some cases, where belief systems are inflexible, collaboration may not work at all: “the only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts” (Harris, 2005, p. 48). In any case, collaboration takes time and effort and involves risks (Préfontaine, 2003).
Collaborative Values, Principles, and Beliefs
This book is focused on creating a culture of collaboration, which requires more commitment and change than, say, working collaboratively during a single meeting or project. For such relatively short-term activities, it might be sufficient for the prevailing norms to be temporarily suspended or ignored, but to create a culture of collaboration requires norms that are consistent with and supportive of collaboration. The chapters in this book address, implicitly or explicitly, the values, principles, and beliefs underlying collaboration. In addition, various organizations have issued formal statements, presented in the Appendix, “Collaborative Values, Principles, and Beliefs,” at the back of the book. At their root, these statements share much in common. Each says something about our role in making decisions or choices, the information we need to make those decisions in a meaningful context, and how the individuals and organizations involved should relate to one another.
The act of making choices is fundamental to human nature and the health of individuals and society. This is reflected in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which states, “Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in [the Law’s] foundation” (National Assembly of France, 1789). Concern about the right to participate in decision making is not limited to the law or public sector issues; a number of recent articles have focused on the workplace (Cheney and Cloud, 2006; Johnson, 2006). For example, the journal Economic and Industrial Democracy “focuses on the study of initiatives designed to enhance the quality of working life through extending the democratic control of workers over the workplace and the economy” (Sage Publications, 2006). A recent article noted:
One of the consequences [of recent corporate scandals] has been the emergence of an employee rights movement that advocates greater employee participation in corporate decision-making. … Workplace democracy exists when employees have some real control over organizational goal setting and strategic planning, and can thus ensure that their own goals and objectives, rather than only those of the organization, can be met. … We feel it is difficult to contest employees’ right to have a say not only in the conduct of their jobs, but also in the wider organization of work and the company’s strategic direction, when employees will potentially be most negatively affected by the decisions made [Foley and Polanyi, 2006, p. 174].
Herbert Simon ( 1997), a Nobel laureate in economics, deemed decision making the central function of organizations (Simon, 1997), and some scholars view choice as central to human experience: “All students like to believe that their particular subject is the center of the universe. Doubtless, students of judgment and decision making are no different, but they may have a good argument for their view. After all, they can claim that the great moments of history all turned on someone’s judgment as to what should be done and someone’s decision to do it” (Hammond and Arkes, 1986, p. 1).
These views and my own experience lead me to support the claim that all individuals and interest groups, in all sectors of society, have the right to meaningful participation in decisions that affect them.
To participate in decision making inherently requires that participants have pertinent information. A choice without information is hardly a choice at all. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education” (Lipscomb and Bergh, 1904, p. 278).
Technical, objective facts are necessary, but not sufficient. The social and personal context of facts is what gives them meaning. Following World War II, Victor Frankl wrote, “Striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force of man" ( 1962, p. 99). In recent years, researchers in positive psychology have identified meaning—“attachment to something larger, and the larger the entity to which you can attach yourself, the more meaning in your life” (Seligman, 2002, p. 14)—as essential to human fulfillment and happiness. Even when there is no argument about objective facts, their meaning—their implications and the preferences and subjective judgments related to them—can vary for different individuals and groups. How those differences come to be known and how they are communicated and understood rely on the relationships among the individuals and groups involved.
Margaret Wheatley (1999) observed, “None of us exists independent of our relationships with others. … What is critical is the relationship created between two or more elements” (pp. 35–36). Relationships provide the social context in which we exchange information and make choices. The dynamic health of our relationships affects, and is in turn affected by, the quality of our information and choices. Through our relationships, the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of each individual have the potential to contribute to greater shared meaning and choices that provide greater mutual benefit. Meanings, choices, and relationships are inextricably and dynamically interdependent and are at the core of collaboration.
What’s in This Book?
“What do you think it takes to create a culture of collaboration?” So begins Sam Kaner’s conversation with five CEOs in Chapter One, “Five Transformational Leaders Discuss What They've Learned.” These leaders synthesize their experiences in building collaborative organizations and touch on many of the issues that are the focus of subsequent chapters. Following this far-ranging conversation, the book is organized in three parts: “The Bases of Collaboration,” “Approaches to Collaboration,” and “Collaboration in Action.” Many of the chapters could fit comfortably in any of these sections. Nonetheless, I hope the following organization and overview will set the stage for the book and help you find the information you need.
Part One: The Bases of Collaboration
The chapters in Part One explore the foundations on which collaboration can be built. Without these elements, it would be difficult for collaboration to succeed.
Chapter Two, “Renewing Social Capital: The Role of Civil Dialogue,” by James Campbell, highlights the relationships among social networks, social capital, social trust, and social confidence—all necessary foundations for a culture of collaboration—and the role civil dialogue plays in their development.
However, even when some of these social conditions are lacking, collaboration can be built, as described by Mladen Koljatic, Mónica Silva, and Eduardo Valenzuela in Chapter Three, “The Development of Cross-Sector Collaborations in a Social Context of Low Trust,” which draws on studies of cross-sectoral collaborations in Chile.
The dynamic nature of collaboration and the conditions that come into play are made more explicit in Chapter Four, “Exploring the Dynamics of Collaboration in Interorganizational Settings,” by Ignacio Martinez-Moyano, which presents a formal model of inter-organizational collaboration dynamics.
In Chapter Five, “Equity, Diversity, and Interdependence: A New Driver for Societal Societal Transformation,” Michael Murray and Brendan Murtagh review their experiences using equity, diversity, and interdependence to help heal social divisions in Northern Ireland, and provide recommendations for applying this approach in organizations.
The conditions that enable a collaborative to maintain itself—to bend and remain flexible under pressure—are the subject of Chapter Six, What Keeps It Together: Collaborative Tensility in Inter-organizational Learning,” by Hilary Bradbury, Darren Good, and Linda Robson, which is based on their five-year study of the Sustainability Consortium, an inter-organizational learning collaboration.
Concluding this part, in Chapter Seven, “Make-or-Break Roles in Collaboration Leadership,” Mirja Hanson emphasizes the importance of three roles—participants, facilitators, and sponsors—for successful collaborative problem solving.
Part Two: Approaches to Collaboration
The actual work of creating and maintaining a culture of collaboration requires more than an understanding of its bases or foundations; we need some practical approach that will help individuals and groups work together more collaboratively. This part presents several such approaches.
Gervase Bushe illustrates the use of “learning conversations” to create “interpersonal clarity” in Chapter Eight, “Sense-Making and the Problems of Learning from Experience: Barriers and Requirements for Creating Cultures of Collaboration.” The author identifies thirteen cultural assumptions essential for interpersonal clarity and collaborative relationships.
In Chapter Nine, “Metaphors at Work: Building Multi-agency Collaboration through a Five-Stage Process,” Carol Sherriff and Simon Wilson demonstrate how organizational metaphors can be made explicit and used to build shared meaning in multiple-organization settings.
The “uncertainty framework” presented by Kim Sander Wright in Chapter Ten, “Utilizing Uncertainty,” provides a way to acknowledge stakeholders’ states of mind with regard to their differing viewpoints and develop collaborative processes accordingly.
Chapter Eleven, “Sustainable Co-operative Processes in Organizations,” by Dale Hunter, approaches collaboration as a developmental group process with the group’s widening awareness of its social and ecological context.
Paul Wong bases his strategy of cultural transformation on the positive psychology of management, presented in Chapter Twelve, “Is Your Organization an Obstacle Course or a Relay Team? A Meaning-Centered Approach to Creating a Collaborative Culture.”
In Chapter Thirteen, “Practical Dialogue: Emergent Approaches for Effective Collaboration,” Rosa Zubizarreta compares dynamic facilitation, dialogue mapping, and transformative mediation, three non-linear, non-directive approaches to collaboration.
Roger Schwarz contrasts the models of unilateral control and mutual learning in Chapter Fourteen, “Using the Facilitative Leader Approach to Create an Organizational Culture of Collaboration.” He suggests that a change in mind-set is key to creating a culture of collaboration.
Chapter Fifteen, “Use of Self in Creating a Culture of Collaboration,” by Ante Glavas, Claudy Jules, and Ellen van Oosten, focuses on practitioners—facilitators, consultants, coaches, and managers—and their role as instruments of change by virtue of the way they present themselves to the individuals and groups with whom they work.
Part Three: Collaboration in Action
The case studies in this part are vehicles for integrating theory and practice and providing insights into what works.
To reduce its racial achievement gap and achieve educational equity, the public school system of Brookline, Massachusetts, had to work collaboratively. The conditions, practices, and processes used are described in Chapter Sixteen, “Collaboration for Social Change: A Theory and a Case Study,” by Cynthia Parker, Linda Guinee, Courtney Bourns, Jennifer Fischer-Mueller, Marianne Hughes, and Andria Winther.
The maintenance division of a county public works department, “plagued with hostility, lack of trust, a vigorous rumor mill, racial tension, and an all-white ‘old boy’ network” is the setting for a five-pronged effort to build a more collaborative organization in Chapter Seventeen, “Theory in Action: Building Collaboration in a County Public Agency,” by Jaime Harris and David Straus.
Stakeholder analysis and involvement, the framing of public problems, the difficulties of disrupting existing systems, the need to share leadership widely, and the importance of seed money, champions, and sponsors are important lessons from Chapter Eighteen, “Leadership for the Common Good,” by John Bryson and Barbara Crosby.
In Chapter Nineteen, “Using Deliberative Democracy to Facilitate a Local Culture of Collaboration: The Penn’s Landing Project,” William Ball evaluates this effort to involve citizens in terms of its impact on public policy, general thinking in the political system, training of knowledgeable personnel, and interaction with the public.
Lyn Carson advocates for the random selection of participants in Chapter Twenty, “Avoiding Ghettos of Like-Minded People: Random Selection and Organizational Collaboration.” She illustrates its effectiveness in one case and explores why it never got off the ground in another.
Using a synthesized case in a higher education setting, Chapter Twenty-One, “Involving Multiple Stakeholders in Large- Scale Collaborative Projects,” by Tasos Sioukas and Marilyn Sweet, focuses on stakeholders and how they figure into planning and implementation at various stages of a project.
At the back of the book, the Key Concepts defines key ideas and terms, cross-referenced to the chapters in which they are discussed.
The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation was months away from coming off the press when this book project was launched. My personal thanks go to the International Association of Facilitators and Jossey-Bass for their willingness to forge ahead with a second edited volume before the success of the first one was known.
Working with the thirty-eight authors who contributed to this book has been intellectually rewarding and personally gratifying. My thanks go to all of you for your insights and efforts putting them in writing. Many of the authors attended a two-day “authors conference” that gave us the opportunity to hear and talk about draft chapters. Additional thanks go to you who participated in that outstanding exchange. Jon Jenkins, head of the Publications and Communications Strategic Initiative for the International Association of Facilitators, and Kathe Sweeney, senior editor at Jossey-Bass, deserve special thanks for supporting and advising this project from its inception.
Albany, New York
University at Albany
Center for Policy Research