Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Safety and possibilities

There is such talk of collaboration at the moment it seems to be infiltrating the zeitgeist: business leaders, climate change specialists, artists, scientists - everyone is talking about it.

If everyone was doing it - and doing it well - then I would not have had the priviledge of facilitating a workshop on collaboration the other day. But I did - 18 stellar collaborators from around the UK, and because London tends towards the cosmopolitan, that included accents from South Africa, India and America. For me, the highlight was in providing an enabling container for people to go broad and deep into both complexity and their own personal experiences. What do we collaborators do, how can we understand it and how can we do it better?

But beyond my personal professional satisfaction of space-holding, I was struck by the relationship between trust, emergence and spaces of possibility. We were grounding the discussion in complexity science, holding that complexity science provides a useful scientific framework for illuminating what most anthropologists have known for decades: relationships matter. A lot.

Complexity reminds us that complex systems (any human system is complex) emerge and co-evolve. There is this delightful notion of the 'space of possibility' - where something - anything - can occur. Preferably something new and different. At the workshop, we talked about the 'sense' of collaboration. indeed, to survive and thrive an entity needs to explore its space of possibility. to survive and thrive, an organism needs to explore its space of possibility. this includes generating variety.

This requires safety. For an organisation, it might look like a team being given the permission to fail.

For a group of collaborative practitioners at a workshop - it looked like people taking small risks of making themselves vulnerable, discovering that they were still accepted, and then being able to move into the next phase of their work.

For one woman, that 'small risk' was making a verbal but non-language expression of how she was feeling. For another woman, it was putting the word 'spirituality' on the collection of 'elements of collaboration'. For another person, it was sharing what a bad state their organisation's finances actually were in.

"Risk" was different for everyone. But safety was paramount. Safety, here, was an emergent property: it could only come through people taking risks, discovering that yes, it was safe, and then moving into an exploration of the 'space' that they were in.

Sometimes, we act as if we can create possibilities and visions without first taking care of ourselves. But I walked away from the workshop remembering that visions are only possible once your feet are planted on the ground. And that in order to create safety and security, we have to let ourselves be at least a little bit unsafe - to step away from our own personal 'normal behavior' just enough so that we can find who we are with one another.

Because this takes time and effort, and each person needs to do it their own way, its not necessarily a fast process. But the slow co-evolution provides the network for collaboration - regardless of the goal.

Indeed, for a group of people whose work requires a fair amount of goal-focus, not having a precise goal and instead meandering towards one another was, for many, a real delight.

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