Adversarial collaboration; the real deal for the highly motivated 

Being committed to trust building is of the utmost importance as it is one factor that will remain vulnerable to the whims of serious complexity.

Every good collaborator will tell us that good outcomes come with hard work. Hard work is also about the honesty and integrity that partners bring into the mix as they build trust.  Trust is necessary if the integrity of the collaborative process is to be preserved; and before real expectations of outcomes are possible.  This is where adversarial collaboration comes into play. A method of collaboration long used in areas such as scientific inquiry and legal processes, two opposing parties have a shared goal which they pursue from opposing ends with full trust in the process.  Although, strictly speaking, as a scientific method this form of collaboration is focused mainly on resolving two conflicting hypothesis, in a broader sense it can be applied to any form of business collaboration. 

1_plus_1The core part of adversarial collaboration is the integrity of process. Preserving it is easier said than done, but far from impossible. On the contrary, explicit commitment to integrity is what gradually becomes one of the principal resources that all collaborating parties turn to when the collaboration hits a roadblock. A shared knowledge that all parties are collaborating with the explicit understanding of the importance of a trusting and safe environment can play a decisive role in ensuring that collaborators feel disinclined to be liked at all costs. Instead the focus would remain on the desired results, which were the primary reason for setting up the collaborative partnership.

Suggesting that trust and integrity are vital in the workplace, and particularly in situations where people depend on each other, has become somewhat of a cliché. More worrying is that the response to this is even more of a cliché, and that suspiciousness towards trusting people is in fact a major hurdle to productive collaboration. While collaboration offers genuine competitive advantage, that should come with a qualification; the level of advantage is directly dependent on the investment we make in trusting the relationship. 

Trusting a relationship may not be about having others’ approval. It may even come with people not liking what we say or do, but trust and respect will come out as winners because the outcomes that collaboration enables are a far more mature reward than a mediocre collection of sympathy votes.

My advice to all senior executives who embark on transitioning to a collaboration-rich culture or organisation is to invest in some preparation time and develop clear parameters for staff to perform by, in respect of the degree of trust that should be part of the organisational culture. It is a mistake to believe that the collaboration itself will lead to greater trust when little exists beforehand. A winning collaborative strategy is one that combines the best aspects of what an organisation has, and then amplifies this to a competitive advantage.

Collaborative strategy is not about making people happy, it is about happy people making an organisation perform better.

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