The road trip to collaboration.

“Our ego wants to be acknowledged and right.”

– Frederik Imbo

For topic three, Networked Collaborative Learning, we, PBL group11 (aka Splace), tried a different approach. Our moderators assigned us a task that they thought suited the topic of the week and would allow us explore the potential of the topic. This task required us to collaboratively design the outline of a course that heroes Personal Learning Networks. The emphasis was placed on collaboration and PLNs.

See our final outcome here:

Before I delve into how I experienced working on the above-mentioned task, I’d like for you to join me in thinking about your frame of reference when it comes to group work and collaboration before ONL. For me, personally, it was barely ever a positive experience as I ended up doing most of the work in the end. Being honest with myself, I would admit that it was partly the fault of my perfectionist and slightly controlling nature that wanted to ensure that the end product reflects my work ethic and would score high marks. So, in essence, my ego was too much involved.

As Dr. Shelle VanEtten de Sánchez says in her Ted Talk, The Power of Collaboration, collaboration belongs equally to each and all of the participants. I was always more worried about the fact that the other participants didn’t share my work ethic and output standards, so I took it upon myself to “pick up the slack”. Everyone did their part, handed it to me and I wrapped things up in a neat bow. I was always so focused on the outcome that I forgot to embrace and enjoy the journey with my group members. The same imbalance in the group dynamic that frustrated me so much was created by myself. So, things were more cooperative than collaborative thanks to my ego.

I had to put this aside in ONL and adjust my approach to collaboration. I had to face the shortcomings in my perspective of groupwork and teach myself to let go of my ego, to trust in the capabilities of my co-participants and be more present in the journey.  I knew I had to make an adjustment, but how? How does one become skilled in the art of collaboration? What personal skills do I need to level up my collaboration skills? How does one create a group dynamic that is conducive for collaboration and not just cooperation?

Don’t get me wrong. Cooperation isn’t a bad thing. Both cooperation and collaboration are needed for creative work. Here is a quick breakdown of some fundamental differences between the two according to John Spencer’s YouTube video called Cooperation vs Collaboration: When to Use Each Approach. One can see that both are intricate approaches, and both offer value to a group work task.  

Collaboration Cooperation
Begins with Mutual Trust
Requires vulnerability
Shared values
Generating new ideas together
Begins with Mutual Respect
Required transparency
Shared goals
Sharing of ideas

Respect and trust are things that people believe is earned. Respect, in my opinion, comes a little easier than trust. But we, as humans, are reluctant to trust that people will be transparent and trust enough to be vulnerable around them. Allowing space for respect and trust is a major hurdle to overcome as a new group. But, conquering that initial challenge sets a strong foundation for successful group work.

I have come across three videos that offer seemingly sensible strategies for successful collaboration. Firstly, I’d like to look at that of Frederik Imbo and his Ted Talk called How not to take things personally? It is through watching his Ted Talk that I made the difficult realisation that my previous problems with collaboration was due to my ego. His very first point: IT IS NOT ABOUT ME! He posed this question: Do you want to be right (and struggle) or do you want to be happy (and experience harmony)?

How not to take things personally? | Frederik Imbo | TEDxMechelen

The next video was made by Google who set out to research group work and hopefully determine what makes a group successful. Their video was aptly called Secrets Of Successful Teamwork: Insights From Google. Here is what they found to be factors of successful teamwork:

  1. Equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking
  2. High average social sensitivity
  3. Show respect by listening and paying attention.
  4. Psychological safety.
Secrets Of Successful Teamwork: Insights From Google

The third video that I found valuable was another one by John Spencer called The 7 Keys to Creative Collaboration. These are:

  1. Ownership: Members need to be empowered from the start. Here, they to solve problems, generate ideas, and design systems that lead to success.
  2. Dependability: Creative collaboration requires members to hit their deadlines and develop creative endurance. 
  3. Trust: When members trust one another, they work interdependently. Here, they genuinely listen to one another and assume the best in each other. Over time, they become transparent and even vulnerable.
  4. Structure: The structure should be loose and flexible. But you need to have structure in creative collaboration. It needs to exist. This is why I love design thinking. It’s a flexible framework for getting the most out of the entire creative process.
  5. A Shared Vision: I’m not referring to vision statements that you put on a wall or slap onto a website. I’m thinking more in terms of a sense of direction. It’s a shared desire, a goal you are aiming for, and picture of what you will produce.
  6. Fun: The best collaborative groups are the ones where you want to be together. They laugh. They play together. And this can actually boost both convergent thinking and divergent thinking.
  7. Candor: This is one of the key takeaways from Creativity Inc., a book by one of the co-founders of Pixar. It’s the idea that groups need to be honest about what’s working and failing. This honesty allows you to adjust and iterate and ultimately create something awesome.
The 7 Keys to Creative Collaboration – John Spencer

So back to Topic three and the task given to us. Did our group work and dynamics have the above-mentioned qualities?

Where were we lacking?

  • We were off to a rocky start. Barely any members understood what the task was asking of us so we started off very uncertain and insecure as we didn’t have a shared vision from the start.
  • We attempted creating a structure by assigning everyone a role, but the stress of maneuvering the task overshadowed our focus on implementing the roles.
  • We found ourselves a little too frustrated to have fun along the way.
  • Only those who eventually understood the task and the intended outcome ended up doing most of the speaking.

Where did we succeed?

  • We trusted and respected one another enough to be candid when we didn’t understand, when we didn’t like and idea or when we were frustrated.
  • We managed to put our egos aside and valued everyone’s input along the rocky journey.
  • I believe there was psychological safety. Maybe not to the best extent, but the level of safety we managed to uphold was soothing in frustrating situations.
  • We listened to one another. We didn’t always know how to respond, but we did try our best to put our egos aside and listen respectfully.

The biggest take-away from this topic was that one truly needs to put one’s ego aside and not take things personally. I’d like to propose looking at groupwork as a roadtrip. Roadtrips are truly more about the journey than the destination, right? They are all about the interactions, adventures, music singalongs, snacks and fun had along the road. The most valuable part of groupwork, that one can learn the most from and should embrace the most, lies in the journey. Embrace it. Be present. Collaborate.

Let go of your Ego