Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 20;   May 16, 2001: Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
"

Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?

by

Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.

Phil was feeling frustrated. He and Jake had been at it for two hours, and they had made little progress. From the beginning, Phil felt that Jake hadn't been receptive to his ideas, so after a while he just stopped offering them. Now he felt like little more than a typist and mouse jockey.

PadlocksJake was no happier. He was a peer of Phil's boss, which made the collaboration with Phil "diagonal." To Jake, Phil seemed to have his mind on other things. Jake wondered, "Why did Phil agree to work on this, if he didn't really care about what went into it?" Jake had much to do that was more important, and now he was wondering why he was caught in this situation again — spending time on the wrong things with the wrong people.

They were both locked in — by different locks.

When hierarchy is unimportant, diagonal collaborations aren't especially risky, but when hierarchy counts, diagonal collaborations have traps for both partners. Here are some tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaboration.

Have a good reason to collaborate
Perhaps you want to learn something, or to get to know your colleague. Perhaps you have critical skills, knowledge, or talents. These are all good reasons to collaborate. But if your motive is to mentor, to be mentored, to block, to overtake, to justify your existence, or to grab some of (or all of) the glory, don't sign up.
Take reasonable risks
When Fun is missing,
the simplest explanation
is that you forgot
to bring the Fun
with you
Anticipating a problem sometimes becomes the problem. Collaborate as if with a peer, until you can tell whether your partner is comfortable with that. It's best if the two of you can discuss this issue openly, but if you can't, assume the best, unless you discover otherwise.
Focus on content and communication
Emphasize content instead of the status gap between you and your colleague. Assume that you're working with your partner because somebody thought that you could team up effectively, and because you had something to contribute. Contribute it.
Work out the kinks
However difficult you find the collaboration, it can be just as difficult for your partner. Things are unlikely to change for the better if both partners keep their misgivings to themselves. If necessary, ask for help from an impartial third party.
Enjoy yourself
Working with the right partner can be fun. Look for ways to create that kind of experience. When Fun is missing, the simplest explanation is that you simply forgot to bring the Fun with you. Take a break, find the Fun, and start again.
Remember that collaboration is a partnership
Think of your partner as a peer. Be open to new approaches, and be open to moving in new directions. Let "mistakes" happen — they can lead to exciting, original creations.

You might have a choice that Phil and Jake did not. If you read this page together, right at the start, you'll both have these tips in mind, and that might help keep your collaboration in the safe zone. Go to top Top  Next issue: Avoid Typing Under the Influence  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenJcUAhAcbDBsYTyQbner@ChaccDykMXwCRgGUsqeLoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The U.S. Capitol at nightExcuses, Excuses
When a goal remains unaccomplished, we sometimes tell ourselves that we understand why. And sometimes we do. But at other times, we're just fooling ourselves.
Secretary Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush, and Administrator Michael BrownWhen Stress Strikes
Most of what we know about person-to-person communication applies when levels of stress are low. But when stress is high, as it is in emergencies, we're more likely to make mistakes. Knowing those mistakes in advance can be helpful in avoiding them.
Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleOne Cost of Split Assignments
Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin, but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can lead to higher costs.
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaDecisions: How Looping Back Helps
Group decision-making often proceeds through a series of steps including forming a list of options, researching them, ranking them, reducing them, and finally selecting one. Often, this linear approach yields disappointing results. Why?
Still Life with Chair-Caning, by PicassoSolutions as Found Art
Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Cargo containers at a port of entryComing May 31: Unresponsive Suppliers: III
When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers are a special case. Available here and by RSS on May 31.
A blue peacock of IndiaAnd on June 7: The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's ability to collaborate. Available here and by RSS on June 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenOwVoBuAnCnLUXrufner@ChacZVaPOFaQguhOkpfaoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.