Critical Thinking: When we enter into a collaborative relationships, we must begin not only to learn about the operations and culture of the other participants in the partnership, but must also at some level come to appreciate and even anticipate the implications of the perspectives held by members of these other organizations. Leaders of collaborative ventures must begin to think like each member of their collaborative venture thinks, even if they (as overall leaders of the collaboration) want to plan, manage, or solve problems in a somewhat different manner. This, in turn, requires that leaders reason and analyze from a relativistic frame of reference. They must be able to take several different perspectives into account, while also being clear about (and critical of) their own perspectives. This is not easy to do and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have two heads (client and coach) thinking and dialoguing about the same complex issue at the same time. This sharing of perspectives is essential to critical thinking.
In the case of a formal collaboration that is founded on a strong mutual commitment, one must think systemically not only about one’s own organization, but also about the partnership and all the other organizations participating in it. The famous family therapist Virginia Satir often commented on the complexity of family systems, noting that as soon as you add a third or fourth element (for example, a first or second child) to the family equation, the level of complexity of the family—its dyadic, triadic, and quadratic relationships—begins to expand exponentially. Similarly, the complexity of any collaborative venture increases exponentially with the addition of each party to the organizational equation. The collaboration becomes quite complex even when there are only two parties,: there are multiple dynamics operating within each of the participating organizations. Once again, “two heads are better than one”—especially if one of the heads belongs to a trained organizational coach.
Clarification of Values: With unclear boundaries—both personal and organizational—it is particularly important that those participating in a collaborative venture be clear about their mission and, in particular, about their own personal aspirations and the institutional values of the organizations involved. A participant in the collaborative venture who has reflected on her values with a coach and who looks beyond the immediate benefits of the collaborative venture to deeper and more abiding values and purposes will be well-served by this venture and by her coach. It is quite tempting to set up collaborative ventures on a short-term basis for expediency’s sake. But these collaborations often backfire. All participants in a collaboration must be clear about the reasons for setting up the venture—and I have repeatedly seen that this clarity is much more likely to be found among participants who each has an organizational coach to support their clarification of values, purpose, and mission.
This clarity not only increases the chances that all participants are involved in the collaborative venture for the right reasons, but also helps to contain the organizational anxiety that is generated inevitably by boundary-defying collaborations. Big stakes. Major differences in values and perspectives. Multiple constituencies to please. If we indiscriminately set up collaborative ventures, we are likely to lose any sense of our own personal identity and integrity. We are likely to be whipsawed from one promising venture to the next, and lose our sense of personal purpose and value while “fitting in” with the diverse cultures of many other partnering organizations. We end up losing our organizational “soul” while pursuing the potential benefits of collaboration with other organizations that offer tempting resources and strategic advantages. An organizational coach can help keep someone a client both clear and honest in confronting these temptations—and confronting the underlying anxiety involved in any ambitious project of collaboration.Download Article 1K Club