Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

collaboration_Jennifer-Leonard

Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

——————————

What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

Considering a Career Change? READ THIS FIRST!

Now Hiring, by Nathan Stephens, Flickr

Now Hiring, by Nathan Stephens, Flickr

Changing careers can be a risky and challenging move. This is especially the case for folks who have been at a career for 10, 20, or more years.

For most individuals with 20 + years of work experience in one field, the easiest (and often most advisable) answer is to stay put through the primary working years. While this is the easiest answer, this is not always the feasible or desirable answer.

A Question of Feasibility

The larger economy, as well as the nature of companies in general, continues to change in our day. With these changes, few organizations can assure their people that they will have lifetime employment.  For many in our day, career shifts are based on necessity rather than personal wishes.

This necessity may be due to downsizing at their current company or organization. This necessity may also be due to a larger trend in their industry in general—trends that mean fewer jobs are available in their field.

A Question of Desirability

Other times, a change in career is driven by personal desire rather than the practical questions of feasibility. As a professor teaching in the seminary context, these are the students I often meet. These students are considering a career shift to pastoral or other church-based leadership roles that typically is not driven by necessity.

Whether it is a shift toward church-based ministry along with many of my students, or another career path altogether, the question of desirability is driven by finding a vocational role in the years ahead that will be personally meaningful and fulfilling.

Practical Advice for Changing Careers

Whether driven by the feasible or desirable, what is the most effective way to pursue a career transition? I came across a fascinating article on this topic by Herminia Ibarra this past summer. Ibarra observes that there is one key differentiator between those who make a successful career change and those who do not.

This key differentiator is moving from a “Plan and Implement” approach to a “Test and Learn” approach. Here are some of my reflections on Ibarra’s broad categories that I will engage around the shift from planning to playing.

Traditional Advice—Plan then Act

Typically, people consider a career change by thinking through options, deciding on one, and then taking the plunge by acting on that knowledge. In other words, the process moves from planning to acting. This seems like a logical and helpful approach.

The only problem with this is that it is disconnected from the way life typically works!

Consider the way infants, toddlers, and children learn. Toddlers do not typically spend weeks thinking through their future walking strategy and then all of the sudden start their walking journey with perfection. Most toddlers spend a lot of time trying things out—“playing”—and typically take lots of spills along the way. Over time, though, they learn a new skill and it becomes an integrated part of who they are.  In this example, planning is not the key, but rather playing.

Often this is the way various sports and hobbies are selected as well. Children and teens try on a lot of options and slowly figure out both what they are good at and what they enjoy. The initial career process often follows this path as well.

Better Advice—Play then Act

However, the further along we go in our career, the less likely we seem to follow this path of play. We become more risk adverse in career selection, and this often leads to making very thoughtful, methodical, calculated, and slow decisions. In Ibarra’s words, the plan and implement approach “sounds reasonable—but it actual fosters stagnation,” and keeps us “mired in introspection.”

While there is wisdom in thoughtful and slower decisions, it is important to go back to our earlier days to drawn insights we once knew about playing that leads to proficiency.

Because developmental learning is often tied to trying things out first—playing—experimenting with career transitions by trying things out is key to the success of many pursuing career transitions.

Ibarra calls this the test and learn method to career transitions: “You put several working identities into practice, refining them until they’re sufficiently grounded in experience to inspire more decisive steps.” Putting these identities into practice is vital because careers are closely connected with people’s identities. On this point, Ibarra writes:

The test-and-learn approach recognizes that the only way to counter uncertainty and resist the pull of the familiar is to make alternative futures more vivid, more tangible, and more doable. We acquired our old identities in practice. Likewise, we redefine them, in practice, by crafting experiments, shifting connections, and making sense of the changes we are going through.”

Finding Ways to Play before Acting

In light of such advice, the key to considering a career transition is finding ways to try things out first before taking a plunge. What is the possible career transition you have been considering? How can you find a way to experiment with this career before releasing your former career?

Ibarra recommends trying out “new activities and professional roles” on a small scale before making a commitment to a different path. This likely means making some form of sacrifice in the short-term:

  • Trying out freelance work in a new area
  • Considering an educational option that will give you on-the-job experience
  • Doing some pro bono work to get experience
  • Engaging in a new area of work as a volunteer
  • Using some evenings or weekends to try out a role through a second job
  • Taking some vacation time to explore the new role over a concentrated period of time

In all of these examples, the key is to find a way to “play” rather than just “plan.” Try things on. See if the role is a fit. Use the “play” time to see if you are (1) good at the role, and (2) enjoy the role.

As you play in this new role (or roles), be open to the fact that this role may actually affirm that you are already in a good fit already. Whether the play affirms a new career direction or reaffirms your current career, this vocational play will be well worth the investment.

Enjoy the Planning and Playing

Bottom line, a career change is a big decision. It is worth taking the time necessary to make sure it is the right decision. Taking time is not just about planning, though. It is also about playing. Take time to play in these new roles, try them out, and see if they are the right fit for you at this season of your life.

Let Your Life Speak — How to Understand Your Vocational Call

Artist at work, Jean-Francois Phillips, Flickr

Artist at work, Jean-Francois Phillips, Flickr

How do you discern your vocational path? How do you decide what your contribution to the world will be? What is your vocational calling?

These are big questions. How we understand our work and the contribution we make to the world is vital from our earliest days of vocational discernment on through adulthood.

  • It is vital for teens as they consider potential pathways for further education and future work.
  • It is vital for adults as they work to make ends meet for their family, and particularly as they seek to do so in a manner that is fulfilling to them personally and meaningful to others societally.
  • It is vital to all engaged in any form of vocation because our work lives occupy the majority of our waking hours.

Understanding the importance of vocational discernment is one thing. Understanding how to approach this process of vocational discernment is quite another.

How to Engage in Vocational Discernment

As I have spent time teaching in the area of leadership and the inner-life, one of the core principles I come back to with students time after time is a rather simple one—the importance of listening. At the core of vocational discernment is the art of listening.

1. Listening to Heroes and History

In the book of Hebrews we are instructed to “Remember [our] leaders, those who spoke to [us] the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). This charge to look to our leaders is not simply referring to the contemporary and living, but rather also to those who have gone before us.

In Hebrews chapter 11 the author highlights over a dozen persons of great faith such as Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and David. Reflecting on their lives, we are instructed: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

As we look to such stories of courage and faith, this becomes one pathway of listening for our own vocational discernment. What is “the race that is set before us”? As we run our own race, we have “so great a cloud of witnesses” surrounding us and cheering us on. Some of these are individuals we read about in Scripture. Some of these are courageous individuals we read about in other historical literature. We can learn about our own vocational race as we look to others. We can reflect on our life and calling as we consider the lives and callings of those throughout history. Historical examples, for better or worse, provide thoughtful insights for our own vocational discernment process.

2. Listening to Your Community

Not only can we engage in vocational discernment through listening to heroes and history, we also must learn to listen well to those in our immediate communities. Are we listening to our family, our friends, and maybe even our foes as we consider our vocational path? There is great value in a contemplative approach to vocational discernment (something I will highlight below), but calling is often best discerned not in isolation but rather in the context of community.

Are we listening to the voices around us? Are we listening to the perspectives of supervisors? Are we listening to feedback from coworkers and those who work for us? Are we listening to what our friends and family share? Are we listening even to our critics when they bring constructive rather destructive reflection?

In the context of community we find a place to listen to others in our own vocational discernment processes.

3. Listening to Your Life

In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer points us to an old Quaker saying that became the title of his book—let your life speak.

Speaking to Your Life

Parker begins his reflections by contrasting two approaches to life. I’ll call the first approach speaking to your life. On this approach, Parker writes, “Vocation, the way I was seeking it, becomes an act of will, a grim determination that one’s life will go this way or that whether it wants to or not.” This is the path many pursue for understanding and seeking their vocational goals.

This path is characterized by setting our course, clarifying our values, and identifying and implementing things such as our S.M.A.R.T. goals. Certainly there is a place for these principles.  But Parker is pointing us to something more. He refers to this something more as letting your life speak.

Let Your Life Speak

Rather than planning out and dictating to our life, Palmer reminds us of the importance of listening to our life and letting our life speak to us. Parker writes, “Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about—quite apart from what I would like it to be about—or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.”

Such insights remind us of the value of contemplative reflection. They remind us of the importance of stopping, listening, and paying attention to what is happening in and through our lives. Though contemplation is not the only solution, it is a particularly important message for this season in time and history. There are so many potential distractions around us. Although contemplatively listening to our lives has always taken intentionality, in the days of smartphones, email, Facebook, and countless other barriers to contemplation, we are reminded that listening to our lives takes focus and intentionality.

4. Listening to God

For persons of faith, listening to God is the most important consideration. Understanding and living out God’s will for us is a primary concern, and a conversation for which the biblical authors provide key insights (e.g., Romans 12:1-2). While the discussion of understanding God’s will and listening to God’s heart for us warrants a substantial treatment, at this point I’d simply like to make the connection between listening to God’s voice and what has been noted above.

Listening to voices from history, voices from our community, and the voice of our own life are some of the primary ways we hear the voice of God in our lives. The biblical phrase “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) reminds us that through seasons of discernment and prayer, often the will of God is discerned in the context of the communities within which we are placed.

Certainly God can speak in very direct and dramatic ways. Moses experienced this in the burning bush of Exodus 3. But more often, we hear the voice of God in quiet ways through the people, events, and circumstances that shape our life. We tend to hear God more like the “gentle whisper” Elijah experienced (1 Kings 19:11-13) than the burning bush Moses experienced (Exodus 3).

What’s Next — Moving from Listening to Action

While listening is often the headwaters of discerning vocational calling, action is also important. Engaging the question “How do you get where you want to go,” Michael Hyatt reminds his readers of the importance action: “Just start. Once we had our direction all that was left was to move toward it. … Clarity is composed of knowing and doing.”

As most can affirm through their life experience, sometimes the best way to figure out what is vocationally fulfilling is to experience a number of options. As you “try on” these vocational options, what is a good fit for your skill set and gift mix? What is consistent with your personal passions and purpose? What options are also aligning with opportunities?

While vocational discernment begins in contemplation, it doesn’t end there. Find a rhythm of moving between contemplation and action. There is a cyclical or helical relationship between reflection and action where contemplation gives birth to behavior, and those actions once again lead us back to further reflection.

What Has Worked for You?

As you’ve engaged in your own vocational discernment journey, what has been the key for you? What acts of listening have been of help to you? What other steps do you recommend for those engaged in their own vocational discernment process?