Empathy, trust and collaboration

When I started working I was a teenager who, despite rebel, i was getting used to “obey” on hierarchies with the passage of time and with the help of fear of retaliation.

I cooperated silently with the established authority!

When at some point of my professional career I began to represent the authority, first by competence and rebelliousness and after that as a significant part of the hierarchy, I have tried to develop a more participative environment with people who worked with me.

I wanted to, but still wasn’t a collaboration environment. Share knowledge, learn and build consensus was not an easy task for those who worked with a group that cultivates the comfort of familiar and trained tasks.

Collaboration as “a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can explore constructively their differences in the search for solutions that go beyond your own vision”, was not an encouraging prospect of work.

Collaboration implied more desire and effort, more dialogue and more creativity and people were accommodated at heavy hierarchies, to games of interest and to recognize the authority by statute and not by competence.

Despite everything people accepted the cooperative work, i.e., accepted the job as something that is done by the division of labor among them and as an activity where each person is responsible for resolving a part of the problem.

Today, with the technological developments and with the instruments at our disposal, we expand the context of our interaction, connect with a wide range of people from different disciplines and we can cooperate with the aim of creating something new and with value.

Truly collaborative processes embrace different points of view, even those that are conflicting, allowing their merger and creating something new and never before imagined.

To sustain a mindset of collaboration we need of a common purpose. People should collaborate for a reason and this means having a common vision.

This work typically involves the participation of different disciplines and how they interact through their representatives can have an important significance in the expected results.

When we talk about the interaction of various disciplines working on a project we can be talking about multidisciplinary teams (closer collaboration and cooperation and where there is a summation of opinions and tasks that tend towards a goal), interdisciplinary or trans-disciplinary teams (holistic).

An interdisciplinary team is characterized by the interactivity between people from different disciplines and that present an advantage resulting from the formation of generalist skills on the part of the team members, when they have the possibility to discuss third-party interventions in its areas of expertise.

This interaction promotes the development of T-shaped people. While the vertical line represents the specialty skills of each one, the horizontal line represents more tangential competences related to change management and teamwork among others.

If we cannot create observers saying “Observe”, we can’t also create collaborators saying “collaborate”. To collaborate is a decision and this decision is both emotional and rational in order to be able to work in teams.

I think, when we discussed the work of teams in the perspective of collaboration where there is a predominance of a particular discipline, be it design, engineering, economics or psychology, there may be room for some personality conflicts at the detriment of “healthy” knowledge conflicts more probable in interdisciplinary teams. 

A collaborative process is not simple and typically we do not implement it immediately.

Usually goes through several distinct phases (see this article) beginning with an analysis of the situation and a diagnosis of the main issues involved, passes through a definition of the desired outcome, a shared vision, a strategy for achieving that vision and targets, a calendar and concludes with the assessment of the results.

Because it is not simple and immediate it is important to have in mind some aspects:

-In an interdisciplinary team, collaboration success hinges on the availability of each one to collaborate, the desire to share by knowing how and what to share and building confidence.

-In groups seeking to solve problems, curiosity feeds all members which alone cannot solve it. Interdisciplinarity creates a larger exploration field that gives rise to the emergence of more ideas fruit of established connections.

-On teams where generations cohabit, there may be a feeling that the work is not shared with effectiveness and could lead to a decline of expectations in terms of results.

-The best tool to work in interdisciplinary teams and collaborative process is empathy. Try to understand the reasons underlying the options or ideas of each of the people of different disciplines.

-We cannot cultivate a collaborative participation of a team without celebrate the small victories of its members.

-Exists in us a predisposition for confirmation bias, i.e. a tendency to realize and browse what confirms our beliefs and not to seek or underestimate the relevance of what those contradict.

When we entered on a project where collaboration is key to knowledge transfer and for co-creating, small steps must be taken together which means finding within the common points of interest in diversity.

Collaboration is valuable when people need to work together on something that requires negotiation, but assumes a common language and some discipline.


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