Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

May 6, 2013 Biz Books

When to collaborate? Two books offer hints

“CLASH! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are” by Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner (Hudson Street Press, $25.95).

As individuals and businesses, understanding where we came from and appreciating where others came from can help us identify more similarities than differences. Despite the similarities, there will always be situations where we agree to disagree. The disagreements often center on the tug between motivational points of view: independence (i.e. maintaining control) versus interdependence (i.e. collaboration).

In business, nonprofits and government, collaboration can find itself at odds with profit and political motives. Example: MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte started a nonprofit aimed at selling the XO, a $100 laptop, to families in poor countries so their children could use them in school. The technology-business sector jumped aboard pledging cash, materials and expertise. Intel was a partner — until it realized there was a huge market at the bottom of the wealth pyramid. It began manufacturing a direct competitor to the XO. Negroponte's nonprofit viewed “helping children” as its mission; Intel viewed poor children's families as a market.

Government bureaucracy and political motives put the kibosh on a nonprofit/business humanitarian venture that would provide land mine detection equipment to war-ravaged countries. The collaborative believed the equipment could save civilian lives. Even though they believed the project had merit, the Commerce, Defense and State departments took a pass. Why? There was the possibility the equipment could be used militarily.

The authors point out that such situations come from the controlling, “We are where we work” mentality. The people behind the organizations need to find common ground by understanding profit motive, serving the social good and maintaining social/political order. In Negroponte's situation, his nonprofit could have been the sales/distribution arm of the low-cost laptop manufactured by Intel. Both missions would be fulfilled. Similarly, using United Nations contractors to handle land mine detection would have minimized the military issue.

While I've focused on the business-culture conflicts, the other seven (gender, international, political, race, religion, regions, social class) have the same independent roots and interdependent solutions.

Takeaway: There's more sand in the middle of the sandbox than in any corner.

• • •

“Opening Doors to Teamwork and Collaboration” by Judith H. Katz and Frederick A. Miller (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, $18.95).

The common denominator behind execution is people. Their engagement, or lack thereof, affects results. To engage, you have to build trust. The authors offer four trust-building guidelines:

1. “Lean into discomfort” — Get out of your comfort zone. The same-old-same-old won't improve productivity or results. Push the bounds of your comfort zone by learning from others, sharing ideas and taking risks. When you open your door, others will open theirs. Open doors create open dialogue; discomfort becomes more comfortable because there are no elephants in the room.

2. “Listen as an ally” — Trust involves the common interests of we. To be appreciated, people need to be heard not judged. Real listening looks for value, not flaws. Listen to learn allows you to find points of connection. Response built on connection move discussions forward.

3. “State your intent and your intensity” — This doesn't mean you drive a stake deep in the ground. You're simply clarifying your current position based upon the facts available to you. You're inviting others to supply additional information. Their input helps provide a broad perspective of the situation and identifies alternatives.

4. “Share your street corners” — Intersections provide opportunities for interactions. Every street corner has a different perspective of what's happening in the intersection. The 360-degree view provides a better picture of issues and alternatives.

The bottom line: “Change the interaction. Change the experience. Change the results.”

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF