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

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

Two different chairsTake Any Seat: I
When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.
An anxious dogInner Babble
It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
One site auditing a virtual presentationVirtual Presentations
Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations, often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires an approach tailored to the medium.
The field of vision of a horseA Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
FlamesHow to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem, and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Filling a form in hardcopyComing July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
Truth and LiesAnd on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about 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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.