What Keeps Us From Collaborating

In a world where collaboration is becoming increasingly important, there’s a deeply hidden shadow that keeps us from working together effectively.

I’m at an UNSUMMIT in Boulder, CO with COMMON, a creative accelerator for social businesses and projects. We’re here for 3 days to explore the idea of radical collaboration.

I’ve been working on collaboration in my own life and businesses intensely for many years, and mostly failing.

It’s only in the past 2 years, really, that I think I’ve made any effective headway at all. Before that, I thought I was collaborating, but I can see now that my hidden shadows around power dynamics, fear, false trust, competition, and my inability to ask for what I needed or truly know what I had to give, were almost entirely blocking the way.

And that’s what I want to talk about today … surfacing the hidden shadow parts that keep us from effectively collaborating.

Mark Eckhardt, the CEO of COMMON, surfaced the issue in the room when he shared the reality that he has seen over and over again in which he sees collaboration happen up until a certain point, and then it breaks down.

So what is it that creates the breakdown? And what can we do to move beyond these breakdown points to true radical collaboration?

Through surfacing these issues in myself, I’ve been able to identify some key places, which if we could all get really honest with ourselves and potential collaborators, I think we may be able to break through.

  1. Collaboration brings up all my stuff around my fear of not having what I need.
  2. Collaboration brings up all my stuff around not knowing what’s actually mine to do.
  3. Collaboration brings up all my stuff around not knowing how to ask for what I need in exchange for what I have to give.

That’s a lot of stuff.

And, it challenges every single piece of the equation for enough.

So, of course, collaboration is challenging for most of us. In order to do it well, we’d need to be exceedingly clear about what we need, what we have to give, and what’s truly ours to do.

If we don’t, we’ll destroy the collaboration by trying to take more than we need, and likely not even see we are doing it.

We’ll have a “never able to be filled” need for recognition, oftentimes while giving the things that aren’t even ours to give. And when we are giving what’s not ours to give, we’ll never get the recognition that is so desired, and necessary.

If we truly want to collaborate, we must individually do the deep work of understanding and being able to communicate our needs. We must know what’s ours to give. And, we must know how to communicate what we have to give, and ask for what we need in exchange.