If I had to pick one single “core value” I thought would be mostly likely to show up on an association’s core value list, “collaboration” would be towards the top. Who doesn’t like collaboration, right?

Well, I led a senior management retreat for a client one time, and in a rare moment of truth-telling, one members from the management team said something along these lines: “For me, collaboration means interference. Collaboration means I have to stop what I’m working on —something I know to be delivering great value to this organization — and instead spend my time working on one of my colleague’s projects. I know, deep down, there is value to collaboration, but the truth is it gets in the way of me delivering results the rest of you are counting on me to deliver.”

In this particular case, the management team used this as an opportunity to dig into the real value of collaboration. They recognized that to meet the increasingly fast paced change among their members, the collaboration — the interference, really — was, in fact, worth it. If they stayed in their lanes, they were going to miss opportunities and fall behind.

But too often in cultures, we fail to acknowledge the shadow side of our values. We fail to recognize that, in a complex world, declaring high-level values is not enough. You have to really wrestle them to the ground to clarify how a core value like collaboration needs to be addressed.

For example:

  • Everyone can’t collaborate with everyone on everything — that would be too slow. Does your culture make it clear whose input is needed for a decision to be made, versus who is responsible for the decision and who just needs to be informed (see the RACI model)?
  • How much do egos matter? If your culture allows people to push back based on their own personal ego demands, collaboration will look one way. If your culture insists egos be left at the door, collaboration will look very different. How does it need to be for you?
  • Do you value facilitation skills? The root of the word facilitation is the Latin word for “easy,” and I’m guessing you’d rather have collaboration be easy. So are you teaching people facilitation skills? Does that matter in your culture? Is that capacity equally distributed throughout all parts of your organization?

Collaboration is critical. It’s one of the eight core culture markers that we measure in our culture assessment. But even if you think it’s important, you have more work to do in figuring out exactly why and how you’ll make it happen.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

Jamie is an author and culture consultant at Human Workplaces who uses culture analytics and customized consulting to drive growth, innovation, and engagement for organizations around the world. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences and culture change to his work with leaders leveraging the power of culture. The author of two books — "When Millennials Take Over" and "Humanize" — Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

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