Collaboration Skills of Awareness

We've all heard stories in the news about the tragedy of war. We hear stories about how people living in a war-torn country struggle to survive. Pictures are shown of dirty children in torn, filthy clothing playing in the rubble of a destroyed building. That is their story and it can tug at our heartstrings.

We all have stories, because our life is a series of stories. Whether we're a policeman, doctor, lawyer, cook, garbage collector, or postman, we all have stories. Some are exciting, while others are filled with tragedy, but they are our stories and we, as individuals, remember and cherish our life stories. These stories make up who we are.

Our stories create what is known as self-awareness, which simply is "the perception we have of ourselves that includes our characteristics, emotions, and behavior traits." Basically our stories create our traits and characteristics as an individual. It's our stories that make us aware of our strengths and weaknesses through our reactions as we live out our unique and personal life events. It is how we react to said circumstances that define many of our characteristics, making us acutely aware of ourselves as a person. Not only do our stories define us, but many of our stories tell others who we are, too.

Look at one of the more well-known business rivalries of all times, where the companies are as well-known as their founders – Microsoft's Bill Gates and Apple's Steve Jobs. Microsoft and Apple conjure up images in a person's mind – people either hate or love each of the company's products. There generally is no middle ground between their products. The real reason behind this love-hate relationship is because of the stories surrounding their founders. Their personal stories are well known, and it's no secret the two were bitter rivals most of their lives.

Gates grew up slightly wealthier than Jobs, which probably played a role in his attending Harvard, while Jobs took an occasional class at Reed College. Neither graduated, but both knew themselves and used their talents to create electronic empires. Gates wrote the original code that make up the foundation of Microsoft's beginning products, while Jobs realized he was savvy at marketing and relied on Steve Wozniak to create the Apple product. Thus the lines were drawn in the computer world. Both were aware of the other's stories, and from these story lines, they developed their company's strategies for success. Jobs was known to say things like Microsoft lacked taste, while Gates would say Apple products were nothing to brag about. They were rivals.

Gates took the early lead in the electronic segment, and by 1997, it looked as if Apple had fallen from the tree and was about to be crushed from the electronic world's onslaught. Gates extended his bitter rival a helping hand in the sum of a $150 million investment. Jobs took the gesture as "seed" money and Apple began to once again bear fruit with the iPhone and iPad. The two were nicer to each other near the end of Jobs' life. They knew each other's stories and had come to respect each other for what they had accomplished. The two giants had begun the process of reaching beyond personal awareness and in the final days of Jobs' life, the two were slowly moving into collaborative awareness. How far this relationship would have gone will remain a mystery.

The Three Aspects of Collaborative Awareness

"The procedure of discussing and expanding our knowledge of ourselves and others' ideas, goals, values, desires, along with their stories" is called collaborative awareness. The value of this process is it builds support and trust among the group, and enables them to efficiently work together toward a common goal. Building upon their relationship, the group will utilize each person's talents and gifts to bring out the best solution or product available. This type of endeavor is a win-win for any organization, since it ultimately will save time and money in the long run, with fewer errors or miscues in a project, and the company will have a higher retention rate due to the long-term relationships built among employees.

There are three aspects with collaborative awareness:

  • Building awareness to feel secure

  • Collaborating to create the desired relationship

  • Building awareness in the moment

Collaborative awareness cannot be demanded, since it requires trust. It's not like the stereotypical joke about the guy who marries the girl and the next day his friends are teasing him, because he shows up in a button down shirt and dress slacks, instead of his usual jeans and T-shirt. Needless to say, his friends are laughing at him and reminding him of their warning that she was going to change him into the man she wants him to be. That marriage is not collaborative awareness. Collaborative awareness is about understanding someone, not changing them. This awareness is about understanding their beliefs, values, characteristics, and "where they are coming from," instead of trying to fit them into some preconceived or stereotypical mold you have in your mind. It's not about getting to know them, so you can be their judge, jury, and executioner, or their psycho friend who is going to change them into a "mini-me."

Collaborative awareness is about calming a person's fears, so they feel invited and welcome. It's about making a person feel as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and that their opinion, ideas, suggestions, and contributions matter. This type of environment encourages creativity and brings out the best in everyone.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Collaboration Skills course?

Every group type setting has, at a minimum, three types of entities – you, me, and us. As we build awareness and learn about each other, the quality of information grows to the point where we begin to understand the feelings and emotions behind an individual's behavior. With this type of knowledge, leadership is better able to structure situations to bring out the best in the group, by focusing key areas toward specific individuals.

As you can see, collaborative awareness is a continuum – it's an ever-evolving cycle of learning and collaboration. It's a dynamic in a diversified world, where the old way of doing things does not fit in the "here and now," since the "here and now" is considered "yesterday's news."

Building awareness to feel secure

Our brain has a built-in survival mode. A Google search for "survival books" brought up more than 33 million hits. Man is interested in survival. It's a built-in base nature of man. A person entering into a room filled with strangers will walk in slightly nervous as they scan the room for a familiar face, a person who will smile at them, or even a person who appears to have something in common with them, so they will feel comfortable and secure. What people are unaware of is this slight nervousness is because your brain registers fear and your base survival mode has started taking over your body. When this happens, your brain shuts down creativity and cognitive thinking. In a work setting, your productivity suffers when your brain does not transmit secure feelings to your body.

For collaboration awareness to work, you must learn to shut down your brain's survival mode. Let's say you had a bad prior experience in a conference room – you were called in, ridiculed by a group of managers because they didn't like your campaign, even though you had not been given any direction – and then they fired you. Ever since that experience, you have had a fear of conference rooms. That experience is a bad story in your stories file in your memories. Now you are at an organization you love, and you have been asked to join a group to collaborate on a large project. They are meeting in the conference room. Your brain immediately triggers "fear." Your body goes into survival mode. To be a part of the collaborative team, you must toss your "experience" into a box, tape it closed and file that bad story as a distant memory, so you can enjoy being a team member. Here are a few suggestive steps that will enable you to place that bad experience in the proverbial box and tape it shut:

  • Create new, positive stories to replace the bad story associated with your fear. In the example above, of the bad experience in the conference room, the new positive memories would be associating good thoughts of the people who will be in the conference room with you. Create pictures of people laughing and talking among themselves as they walk out of the conference room.

  • Gain awareness of your survival mode taking over your body. Know what it looks and feels like when you experience fear. Knowing and understanding the fear and the associated feelings that come over you will assist you in calming your mind, so you can switch to your new positive images and stories instead of the bad one. Build positive stories and memories by learning more about others in the room, and building positive relationships. The more you learn about their reactions in given situations will quiet your fears and allow positive life stories to develop.

  • When the fear starts, you must question your brain and ask if you really are being threatened, and if there is a need for survival mode. By questioning your brain's response, you are enabling yourself to think a little more clearly, so that you are able to take control of your body and its automatic response system. In scientific lingo you are taking control away from the limbic system – the system where our emotions are created related to survival – and diverting the signals to the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain where abstract thinking and thought analysis takes place.

  • With the knowledge of how you feel when experiencing fear, you can create a plan to calm yourself down. Write down the steps you need to take to overcome your fear, and keep the bad story taped in the box. Rehearse it in your mind, so that it becomes second nature and you do not have to hesitate, think, and react when the fear starts welling up inside of you. When survival mode kicks in, kick it out with your plan and turn on the video camera for another great and happy story.

With fear subsided you are:

  • Opening doors for better awareness of you and others

  • Lessening disagreements within the group, and creating opportunities for compromise and collaboration

  • Allowing creativity to flourish

  • Learning to choose better alternative stories when fear arises

Collaborating to create the desired relationship

Have you ever felt like the world changes overnight? Certain practices of constants you thought would never change, or become obsolete, are being questioned or changed right before your eyes. The secret to success in today's society is to be flexible. The secret to getting along with others within collaborative group is to have the ability to adjust your thoughts and processes. In other words – the only rule is there are no rules. Allow teams to interact as a team and to create their own rules for the assigned project. This could mean the leader changes with each of the steps, so that the person with the most experience and knowledge of that step is in charge. Or it could mean everyone is assigned a specific task, and then everyone leaves the area to accomplish their task, allowing for complete freedom from the confines of the organization. This concept is known as creating a desired relationship for the group setting.

There are five simple steps to allow this desired relationship:

  • Share your stories that compel you to be a part of the team and its project.

  • Share what makes you click, what triggers your fear, and what you need to function at the top of your game.

  • Everyone should know and understand what each other expects from the other, and what is expected from the group, as a whole.

  • Use a safety phrase that stops all activities in the room and brings it back to order.

  • Establish an understanding that the little things will be addressed immediately, so that the group's future will be strong.

Building awareness in the moment

This is where everything the group has discussed and agreed upon, to include their safety phrase, is written down and understood by each member of the group. This will eliminate any future conflicts, since each person understands clearly what has been discussed, and what is expected of them as a group member. Write down what everyone expects from themselves, and each other, and write down what leadership expects from the group. Make sure everything is aligned, so that the organization's goals are met.

Don't hurry through this process, because it's imperative everyone is honest and clearly understands their role. Everyone must feel secure and trust the other members of their group for true collaboration to take place, and for them to exceed the organization's expectations for the collaborative team.

Remember, this is each and every member's final opportunity to voice any concerns, because after everything has been clarified, it will be time to get to work on the project that has been assigned to the group.