How Collaboration is the Key to Addressing Complexity in the Real World

This article is inspired by a TED Talk I watched by Yves Morieux: As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify please watch the video embedded below before reading the rest of this post.


As the talk explains giant bureaucracies that result after numerous iterations of adding more parts to a company end up discouraging and disengaging employees who feel ineffective or insignificant. If instead each group is given increased power along with greater responsibility for what is done you will foster a culture of greater individual importance and efficacy. Furthermore instead of managers overseeing so much that they become hands off, they can be more involved with their teams and develop a positive work atmosphere. Managers become a bigger part of the collaboration that is so vital to reducing complexity.

Collaboration is the word that Yves really means when he talks about cooperation. He talks about team members needing to work together towards bigger goals and become interdependent parts of a whole. The idea that what is accomplished together is much greater than what anyone can do on their own and encouraging everyone to work with others is collaboration. Furthermore effective and continuous collaboration addresses all the challenges that arise in complex situations.

In the end a lot of what effective collaboration boils down to is awareness. Self-awareness to realize what you can and cannot do. As well as awareness of others to realize the wealth of experience you have around you. An effective leader can see the whole picture, understand what the people around them are capable of and maximize their potentials as individuals and as a whole. Every problem needs a unique solution but this doesn’t mean every type of problem needs an entire task force to handle. A good leader finds a way to bring out the greatest versatility in the people they work with by helping them work together to address problems as they arise and avoid future ones. These people then feel a greater identity and thus passion for what they work on because they know they play an important role and their work matters. They share a larger portion of responsibility for seeing their work to success. Attaining this success must be a comprehensive process involving people working with one another at every opportunity.

Increase responsibility and you increase people’s importance in relation to the structure giving the responsibility. This is a simpler solution that can be implemented in many complex problems. Take the automotive example from the TED talk about the different car part groups. If you have a bunch of different groups each contributing different pieces of a car when the car breaks down who is responsible? Each group made their part work, the interaction of the different parts is where the breakdown happened. The popular current approach would be to assign someone to take care of that interaction. This adds more pieces to the puzzle. Why not instead combine groups so that they work together and make sure their parts not only work on their own but with each other’s parts too? This may cause some discomfort at first. But this is where good managers come into play again. Having them there for facilitating the collaboration can address new complexities as they come up with elegant simplicity rather than more complications. These managers are the critical component as they can develop a work environment that is conducive to collaboration. Instead of adding more people to a process you are increasing the scope of the people already involved.

This may weed out the employees who are afraid to tackle more but you don’t want to have those people in the first place. Good management will foster a community where the employees realize the trust that is being placed in them through increased responsibility and value it. As these employees feel greater importance they will identify more with the team around them and a positive overall work environment will result. In this environment employees care about the work they are doing and the work of those around them which will lead to more and more collaboration. This will allow a team of individuals to make a whole that is greater than just the sum of the individual parts. Thus as a leader you are only doing yourself a favor when you entrust greater responsibility to your teams because you get a better sense for those you are working with. Effective implementation of collaboration addresses new problems with existing resources, develops greater efficiency and efficacy all without adding unnecessary complications.

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Collaboration vs. Cooperation

A quick introduction: My name is Alyssa Cherny and I am one of the newest Collaborative Radicals. I recently studied abroad in Freiburg, Germany and had Kerstin Spurk as my professor for a Leading Across Cultures class. Something we had many discussions about were the differences between collaboration and cooperation. In my past years of schooling, we have always been taught to cooperate and come to a compromise. This word compromise now holds a more negative connotation to me. It means that both parties involved in negotiation aren’t completely satisfied with the solution since they both have to give up something. Trust me, I know that in some situations you have to give a little to get a little, but the most successful outcomes are those in which you collaborate.

No one likes abandoning their opinions and values so collaboration allows for one to really hone in on what it is they want. You start from the end goals and work backwards. Each player can be honest and open with their desires so that a solution can be created that will satisfy all the goals. When you put your heads together, you can sometimes even create a solution that is better than what you had originally thought.

I believe that another part of collaboration is team dynamics. When you aren’t in a competitive setting in which teams are against each other and trying to get the best outcome, you have a new atmosphere. This is one in which a team might have the exact same end goals as a whole but different individual wants or needs. The path in which they choose to reach the team end goal might differ. This is where the importance of collaborative teamwork comes in. Working in teams can be a whole adventure in itself. Communication is tough and getting everyone on the same page can be a nightmare. Sometimes I get really lucky with my team and other times I feel like I might as well be working alone. It is impossible to always have the ideal team that works together with no issues, so it is important to have the line of communication open and welcomed by each member. Without communication, the team is doomed.

Being able to work in a team and work with anyone you are put with is the true test of a team player. Personally, I have to work on sitting back sometimes. I naturally tend to lead the group and sometimes I have to step back and let someone else take charge. That is hard for me so I am trying to still be a leader, yet also know when it is my time to listen and follow someone else’s direction. Collaboration cannot happen without really listening to everyone. If you are so focused on what you want that you don’t listen to the others needs, you might miss out on an opportunity to find a solution that is best for both of you.

All in all, this class has taught me to act in such a way that promotes teamwork, collaboration, and communication. Whenever I hide my opinions, it never ends well. It is (almost) always better to be honest from the start so that everyone is aware of the situation.

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The process of collaboration

Trust in the process

As soon as teams need to develop something, as for instance a new idea, a plan of action, a product, a service or a presentation, two things can happen:

They can start to collaborate or they can start to cooperate.

In co-operation, the process is not as important because each member of the team is working separately towards the goal.

Very soon at the beginning, the goal is set up by the team and then the process to get their is similar to an action-time plan  that guides the team members. Each person gets a specific task to work on in a given time, and at the end, all tasks and actions merge.

Trust in the process means: to be fully present and engaged to experience team-work without knowing the exact outcome at first.

There is a goal all members are working on, but rather than setting up the specification at the beginning, the team is working out the idea, the objective everyone can commit to. The team is searching for the best outcome in recognizing and listening to all thoughts at the beginning first. Having all members on one page takes a while and compared with an cooperating approach it takes much longer and is for time-sensitive and action driven team members hard to bear. But, this starting period is nothing else then a combination out of brainstorming – rearranging – integrating.

Trust in the process is needed in collaborative work sessions.

At the beginning of a any collaborative process, there must be an unshakeable sense of trust that this brainstorming – rearranging – integrating time is for a higher good. All members are getting the chance to lay their view, their thoughts and motivation on the table and in doing so, one argument or idea is building onto another. This needs time, but the invest of time proves itself as highly valuable.

Passion and totally engaged team members as a result.

As soon as the rearranging phases ends, a co-creation process starts and true collaboration can happen. The end goal is kind of embodied by everyone which allows free energy to search individually for the best way to get their and more over, to stretch the outcome for a better result than expected at the beginning.  Of one goal a shared desired objective evolves.

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Field Experience Swisscom

A few weeks ago, we had an extremely exciting interview with Christina Taylor at– the leading telecom company in Switzerland. The focus of our questions were regarding the changes and the cultural influence on the whole company due to establishing BrainGym and ProjectGym. She initiated both projects in order to create a different space for working, for creativity and for collaboration. We were curious on the story behind.

Read more ›

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What collaboration requires

Simone Hoferer (SH): I think, collaboration needs trust and commitment. It requires high level of self-consciousness.

Collaboration is about giving freely, its about interacting, reacting, and co-creating with others. By undconditionally joining the process and trusting into the flow great things may emerge.

Kerstin Spurk (Spu): Does collaboration really need trust? Read more ›

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How do you know if you are a collaborative radical?

A collaborative radical feels utterly at home in co-creation. Instead of losing energy and being tired after long discussions, creation processes, and a lot of work, you may feel tired but not exhausted. Like doing sports or music. After long training hours you feel tired and sleepy but satisfied. You can compare it with a flow experience.

In such situations, collaborative radical feel alive. You are working on something with meaning.

When have you felt like a collaborative radical, share it with us.

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What is a collaborative radical?

So after chewing on the discovery of being a collaborator for a couple of weeks I had the insight, that a collaborator is like a free radical in chemistry. These radicals are always eager and prepared to react with others. Some think of them as being agressive. But this is not true and not the point. As being a free radical one can work and exist very well by oneself. But it´s not so much fun. You can work, and function and even create great things but all the same most oft he time you feel like something is missing. You are not feeling complete, you are consciously or unconsciously looking for someone to react with (poor people who are around you when you are too eager to react – it may come to a forced reaction with someone who just wants their peace and quite. It may come to a accidential reaction call conflict by some very ignorant people). Because deep down in your heart you simply know, that the really great and meaningful changes, discoveries, solutions and innovations can only be created with others in a co-creation process. And even better if these others are different from you. Read more ›

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The Antidote for Procrastination

I have a confession to make: I´m a procrastinator and I´m really good at it. Believe me.

Now if you would ask my friends, my partners I cooperate with oder former co-workers they would be really stunned. Because I found out that others have the impression of me as a strctured, disciplined and goal oriented person. Well, yes. There is this side of me, too. Especially if I´m in a working mode and I have appointments and commitments, targets or deadlines to fulfill. I perform quite well if it comes to working off or pure functioning. Or it´s fairly easy for me to be disciplined in training my Iaido (a Japanese martial art with a Samurai sword) I go there two times a week and I go there even if I´m not happy or a bit tired. Read more ›

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The Painter

Imagine you are a painter. You have that big range of various colors. There is this inspiration in your mind and you want to create a new and colorful painting. So you start with preparing the canvas but it says, that it wants to stay blank and white as it is. After a while of persuasion and hard discussions it agrees to be painted on. You pick your brush and start with red, yellow and blue but they refuse to be mixed together. Instead of creating thousands of new shades of colors they insist on staying pure as they are maximum you can put them next to each other but not too close and not touching. Read more ›

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