Conversation without collaborative input is friendly chitchat. Not that there is anything wrong with that level of conversation, but is that real dialogue?

True collaborative dialogue in an organization is the means to identify a purpose, to advance a shared goal, to inform planning and to help understanding of who needs to be involved in the strategy. It provides value in that it negates siloed, top down/bottom up narrow perspectives to meeting challenges; it free informs solution, you can be the owner of both the issue and the resolution, but you are free to use collaboration to get there; and, it creates the environment for, and support of, effective cross cultural team deployment

Sometimes collaborative dialogue is derailed because the organization believes that file sharing or paper sharing constitutes collaboration. This type of sharing is frequently information dump, not collaboration.

Other times the derailment is due to goals that are at odds with each other. An example of this is the breakdown that sometimes happens between sales and production departments. Often sales departments feel that they are not sufficiently involved in the product decisions that affect their clients and therefore their sales goals.

Sometimes the collaboration breakdown can be attributed to groups working together that are diverse in make-up, mandate, and location. The below example involved all three areas of diversity. Though the groups involved had a common goal, their staff, perspectives and separate locations created challenges.

A local neighbourhood resource centre had been working together with the regional settlement and community agencies  to foster an atmosphere that encouraged their community as a whole to participate in a positive, healthy and caring neighbourhood and, as a function of that, provide new immigrants with practical guidance to assist with integration in their new communities.

There were twenty agencies involved in this partnership including child and health care, housing, legal and employment. Although they had a common goal, the diversity of the agencies provided communication challenges that were difficult to overcome as a whole within.

The solution provided a stepped approach that went from an as-is review to conducting focus groups to training for collaboration among the agencies. The result of the focus groups identified session facilitators from each who would be trained to co-facilitate collaborative dialogue training sessions.

The goal of this training project was to provide the collaborative tools that would guide the individual agencies to uncovering and capitalizing on the relevant knowledge and information for cross-cultural deployment of the staff of the agencies. Looking to increase their capacity, their knowledge of issues and their cultural awareness, we created opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas and knowledge exchange within the human services sector. The training sessions provided numerous opportunities to establish dialogue between service providers and were successful in developing relationships to support the ongoing exchange of knowledge, ideas and perspectives.

The requirements/environmental factors necessary for successful collaborative dialogue:

  1. A culture and environment that encourages teamwork and cooperation – In our example, we were successful at enhancing the culture by building on the foundation that expressed itself in the groups asking for help in creating the environment of collaboration required to overcome their challenges.
  2. Provide processes and model behaviour that brings trust and safety to participation – This very important element requires that you walk the talk of collaborative behaviour and that you use or modify processes that enhance security. Methods such as the Simplex Process ensure that the problem solving process accepts the value of all contribution before determining the best path to the goal.
  3. A team set-up that includes diversity – The team needs to include at least one representative from every department/section/sector/etcetera involved and often benefits from strategic inclusion of outside thought leaders who can bring a fresh perspective.
  4. A shared sense of purpose – Simply put…a goal. Sometimes the goal is arrived at through collaborative dialogue, the result of which is to determine the core goal required to meet the challenge. In all instances, it is imperative that the goal is articulated to the team in terms that are common language to the group. The goal in the above example was already clear…diverse groups needed to find ways to work together in a collaborative way to assist their common client to a common goal of successful integration.
  5. A strict adherence to the communication principals of:
    • Active listening
    • Active inquiry
    • Respectful treatment of all ideas
    • Use of common language – check for understanding when language is functionally oriented, check for semantics
    • Speaking with a respectful tone of voice
    • Contribution that allows for entry points – use techniques and processes that remove the possibility of both stage hogs and stage fright. Use techniques such as moderation, round robin, and breakout groups to ensure inclusive participation.

The power of using collaborative dialogue in the above project was clear in that it was successful at meeting the objective of providing relevant knowledge, creating a forum for the sharing of ideas and developing inter-agency relationships.

Twenty separate agencies provided enthusiasm and a spirit of co-operation. Relationships were developed at several levels; at the co-facilitation point as a value add of the training design, which intended to identify and develop ongoing champions; between participants at the sessions: linking faces to names; at the inter-agency level as a means of developing sector champions and inter-agency relationships. This experience provided the participants with the opportunity to recognize the power of collaborative interdisciplinary working relationships; the opportunity to engage, leverage and act in collective identification and problem solving and to contribute to the creation of holistic approaches toward their delivery system goals.

This was Collaborative Dialogue 101 at its best. We would love to hear your examples of successful collaboration…