When considering what collaboration means, one has to hold onto its polar opposite competition. As you read these words then you may feel more drawn to one than the other based on your own experiences in life to date. I for one have always had more of a preference for collaboration whether it was in politics or any other aspect of life.
In fact my daughter won a competition on diversity when she was 18 months old by doing hand prints all linked together in a circle. Ironically it was run by BT and her picture hung outside the CEO’s office for a long time.
Ironic because Corporates are often perceived to be the antithesis of collaboration, their focus is on seizing and maintaining a competitive edge at whatever cost. Working in one over the last month I have been reminded of how true that is. A senior person was recounting how the past week had been for them and mentioned that getting home by 20.30 was an early night and that on that occasion the plan was to make dinner. She was so tired that she did not have the energy to cook so she and her partner just picked at food that was in the fridge which in no way constituted a meal.
It is not a healthy way to be but the fear of being successful and delivering to the level required can be a higher driver than self-care. The concept of whole self does not even feature. What keeps such types going is that their sacrifice will lead to recognition and an even more senior role. From that perspective collaboration is a dirty word.
It is not only in the corporate world that collaboration can be difficult. This year, in an attempt to celebrate the best of Mummy and Daddy bloggers, the MADs were launched. People were asked to nominate their favourite blogs by Mums or Dads and there is an award event at Butlins on 13 September. Like so many things, I am sure that the intention behind this event was positive. Interestingly however there have been a number of rumours and posts in the mummy and daddy blogosphere implying that not all are happy with what has been happening behind the scenes. In fact more than one finalist and at least one of the original panel of judges have withdrawn because the awards have been soured for them.
This is a clear example of how difficult it is to hold the idea of collaboration alongside competition.
I believe that balancing collaboration and competition is important for several reasons.
Firstly when I was in my early twenties, I had the opportunity of travelling to Russia to do some voluntary work. As preparation for living in a new culture, we played a game of 2 societies and we only had the rules for one society. The first was based on collaboration; the other on competition. My lasting memory of the collaborative society was that it was mediocre because there was no incentive to improve or even be the best you could be because you got the same level of reward whatever you did: a salutary lesson that has remained with me over the last twenty years.
That said there is a great deal of credence in the concept that competition narrows your market, collaboration widens it. Those who end up with successful business do so either because they have found excellent ways to systematise their service/ product or because they excelled at collaboration with other business owners.
Finally the most compelling reason comes from looking at life this way: there are few now that dispute that many of the key resources that humans need to survive are finite. There is abundant scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and going forward ensuring that human use of natural resources returns to what can be viewed as, within sustainable limits, will require a major collective effort. It is going to take a raft of initiatives on a number of fronts. It is the subject of another article.
To conclude, when we work with others for a cause that is greater than ourselves, we gain an enhanced sense of self. This is because in those moments our egos have been subdued and we are in touch with our souls, our whole selves.
If on reflection, you find these thoughts hold a grain of truth for you then consider what you can do to make collaboration a real choice along with the daily exposure of competition that we see all around us and buy into to a certain degree. How can you make a difference? What could you do going forward that would improve the quality of others’ lives? It does not have to be some huge campaign; it can be a small step. Just imagine what the world would be like if we really sought out collaborative opportunities and focused on supporting others to reach their goals.
I leave you with this thought: When one woman honours who she is, all women collectively move closer to becoming what they are capable of being.