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

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Saturn during equinox — a composite of natural-color images from CassiniComing May 22: Rescheduling Collaborative Work
Rescheduling is what we do when the schedule we have now is so desperately unachievable that we must let go of it because when we look at it we can no longer decide whether to laugh or cry. The fear is that the new schedule might come to the same end. Available here and by RSS on May 22.
The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeAnd on May 29: Rescheduling: Project Factors
Rescheduling is what we do when we can no longer honor the schedule we have now. Of all causes of rescheduling, the more controllable are those found at the project level. Attending to them in one project can limit their effects on other projects. Available here and by RSS on May 29.

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