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.
Jake 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
- 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. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
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