“We’ve got the investment, but now we have to work together. And he really annoys me….”
It’s a story I’ve heard so many times I’ve lost count. Most recently though it cut me to the core – the research leader in question was working on treatments for a disease that killed a dear friend. He’d forged a critical partnership with an overseas collaborator and there were high hopes for the breakthroughs their teams might achieve together. So far, so promising…but the project was derailing due to a personality clash between the two leaders. Misunderstandings had led to resentment which led to avoidance. The potential for collaborative breakthrough was dwindling fast.
Emotional responses drive behaviour
However much we may consider ourselves to be logical and task-focused, in reality our interactions and choices are affected by our feelings. In the work I do I regularly hear how frustration, disappointment, anger, anxiety and vulnerability colour interactions and decisions in collaborative research. And I see the breakthroughs that happen when a leader has a moment of clarity about what is going on and steps back enough to respond from a considered place. Learning to be emotionally agile is far from ‘fluffy’. It’s an essential element of leadership development that allows us stay on track and not be buffeted off course by stormy interactions.
Collaborators aren’t in the same country, let alone the same building
I recently asked a senior university leader what his strategic vision was regarding collaboration. He explained with great enthusiasm a new building being built where collaborative partners could be co-located. This, he said, was key to collaboration. For me this is a flawed strategy. It might work brilliantly for the few that get co-located, but increasingly research collaborations are multi-partner projects with collaborators distributed around the world. How do we enhance the connections between these collaborators who may never meet in person?
Fluency in collaborative technology counts
Google docs, Dropbox, Skype, Basecamp, Zoom, Slack, ThoughtFarmer. Collaborative technology is an essential part of a collaborative leader’s toolkit. But bringing people together in meaningful and effective meetings online is challenging. The best of way to become fluent in any language is to keep on speaking it. Again and again. That’s why on Collaboration Campfire (our programme for collaborative leaders) we connect over video again and again over ten months. And it’s why we practice different formats for bringing people together meaningfully in an online space.
What happened to the leader with the breakthrough cure?
He had one of those dazzling moments of insight that make me love my job. Through the work we were doing together suddenly saw how his collaborator thought and worked very differently to him. His face changed, the anger and frustration dissipated, and he was able to think clearly and strategically about how they could work effectively together. As for his medical cure…I watch with new hope for that breakthrough to follow…
A relatively tiny investment to develop leaders as collaborators saves millions.
Flagship buildings cost millions, derailed projects waste millions. Yet we can change the course of research projects profoundly by developing the people doing the work. Powerful development can support real time challenges and change the way that leaders and collaborators think and act. This leads to more integration and innovation and, in turn, this changes the course of research. This is why I founded Collaboration Campfire. I know it will change lives.