How to Build Conscious Collaboration

By Audrey Seymour

We can accomplish so much more together than we can alone, yet the old operating models for collaboration in organizations are not working very well any more. Many of us avoided or quit large corporations out of frustration with the hierarchies involved. Yet the opposite extreme of working on one’s own leaves many with isolation and a limited impact.

A middle-ground alternative is to seek out socially conscious organizations for work or volunteering. However, unless we explore and understand effective new models of how to work together, we’ll tend to fall back on old-style hierarchy or flat committee-based decision making. Friction and frustration often arise either way, and neither liberates the full capacity of our collaborative contribution.

To bring about the change we envision in the world we must learn how to harness the power of group effort without the old triggers and internal politics. I remember with a chuckle back in the 1980’s when I joined a group planning a service as part of the World Peace meditation, and we could not agree on the style of service. The project bogged down and the group ultimately split to offer two different events, but the core principle remains: We cannot expect that the world can be changed if we have not changed the way we operate with each other!

You’ve heard how we need to transform ourselves in order to change the world. The next stage of evolution that feels urgently needed in our society is to change the dynamics of how we collaborate.

One of the profound shifts that is needed is the one from “me” to “we” — from competition to cooperation. This applies not only within organizations but between organizations (including solo entrepreneurships) that share a common mission. It’s encouraging to start seeing more cross-collaboration across sectors and other artificial divides, because the solutions we need for today’s challenges require bridging those gaps.

As we heal the part of ourselves that is still operating with reactivity and a hunger for heroic recognition, whether for ourselves or for our tribe, we experience more inner alignment for mutual gain. It is not that we need to ignore our individual gifts and needs, but rather that we balance them in a healthy way with a conscious awareness of the collective.

One of my favorite books is Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, where Dave Logan and others describe the 5 stages that illustrate a natural progression towards a truly collaborative world. These stages can be described with the general feeling tone and perspective held by those who inhabit each stage:

  1. “Life/existence itself is awful” (despair in general)
  2. “My life/existence is awful (and theirs isn’t)” (personal victimhood)
  3. “I’m the greatest (and you’re not)” (solo heroism)
  4. “We’re the greatest (and they’re not)” (tribal pride)
  5. “Life/existence itself is great” (universal appreciation)

It’s important to not judge oneself and others for where anyone lands on the list because we are all on this journey to increased awareness together. Just allow yourself to get curious about where on this list you spend most of your time. You might notice that you drift between two or even three stages, or have parts of you in different stages at the same time.

Imagine what the world could be like if we accepted everyone where they are, while also inspiring them towards a stage 5 perspective.

Take a moment to examine the theme of cooperation versus competition in your own life work, and what might be limiting your impact. Are you avoiding opportunities to share your wisdom with potential collaborators for any reason?  What greater contribution could you be making if you were to use the power of a collective in new ways?

A new world awaits.