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Whoever you are, business executive, union member, staff support, consultant, or government official, you cannot accomplish all your goals by yourself. You need subordinates, coworkers, superiors, suppliers, or customers -- people you depend on every day. Even a poet has to work with editors and publishers. Unless you are a hermit, there is no way you can get much done alone. So you work with others.
It turns out that collaboration is difficult. Robots on an assembly line are designed to work together with precision. People are not. Each of us has a mind of our own. And, unlike robots, each of us has feelings -- of pleasure or anger, confidence or insecurity, friendship or jealousy. We also make judgments of what seems fair or unfair, right or wrong. As a result, when a number of us work together, it does not go easily.
Two Common Symptoms
Collaboration Is Poor
When working with others, most people get discouraged with how much effort is wasted. A level of cooperation is the product of a jumble of different approaches and ideas. Each one relies on experience, intuition, and habit. But all have different experiences, different intuitions, and different habits. The fact that individuals think differently can be a great resource. They can generate more ideas and approaches to choose from. Differences are also a burden. They make it hard for us to work together efficiently.
People waste time, misallocate their abilities, and come into conflict over and over again. Everyone has attended unproductive meetings that consume hours. We have found ourselves spending more time attempting to get organized than doing productive work. Trying to get things done with others can becomeso frustrating that most people have been tempted to undertake some burdensome task alone rather than put up with the hassle of organizing and implementing a joint effort.
And No One Is Making the Situation Better
When you stop to notice what you yourself are doing, it may not be encouraging. You discover that you, too, are not helping. Even when you want to help you rarely know how. If you say nothing, things don't improve. If you tell them to cooperate, things don't improve. If you point out how much time is being wasted, things don't improve. The more strongly you express your frustration, the more you become part of the problem.
You are smart enough to appreciate the time, effort, and emotion that are so often being squandered. The people you work with are, too. And if you are not making the collaboration more effective, neither are they. How come? This book explains why, and what you can do about it.
Diagnosis: We Don't Know Enough About Getting Things Done
There are at least three causes of a failure to improve collaboration -- three problems that a person needs to solve before he or she has a chance to move a group toward better practices.
Personal Skills Are Limited
Even working alone, most of us are not experts on efficiency, and our coworkers know it. If we lack the skill of organizing the easiest case -- working alone -- how can we expect to be helpful in the more complex case of working with others?
We all know that there are times when we don't work very efficiently. Perhaps you are the sort of person who will drive around and around looking for an address rather than stop and ask directions. Perhaps you don't keep your checkbook balanced. You are probably not a model of perfect behavior at work, either. Do you find yourself jumping from one part of a task to another, picking something up, only to put it down and turn to something else?
And above all, people make similar mistakes again and again. An acquaintance of Alan's was in their local bar. In doing an impersonation of a famous pop star, he shot his arm into the air -- and put it through the plaster of the low ceiling. A few days later he was in the same bar when a customer asked him how the damage had occurred. In explaining, he repeated his impersonation -- and put his fist through the ceiling again! Like him, most of us could be better at learning from experience.
Too often our performance reflects a lack of good habits for getting things done. We do not have a simple system we can rely on to handle most of the situations we face. Neither do our colleagues. Since getting ourselves organized as individuals is more than most of us have succeeded in doing, it's no wonder that we haven't found better ways to get an office full of people working well together.
We Have No Clear Vision of What Good Collaboration Looks Like
Think for a moment. How would a group of us be behaving if we were cooperating effectively? What is that goal of good collaboration toward which you or somebody else should be trying to lead us?
This is a second explanation for a failure to improve the way that you and others get things done. You do not know what you want to bring about. Some people assume that cooperative behavior consists of being "nice" to one's fellow workers -- being courteous, being friendly, and going along with their ideas. Being nice can help, but some of the "nicest" workers in the office are the least effective at getting things done. (Some of the nastiest are also ineffective.)
If we were doing it "right," what would that look like? You can certainly think of things to get rid of -- such as endless meetings that never go anywhere. But that is different from having a specific vision of what we could do instead. How would we set the agenda for a better meeting? What would we be talking about? Who would make decisions about who does what? It will be hard to get rid of bad practices unless we have a vision of better ones to replace them.
As you clarify your vision of working well together, you do not want to put yourself above your fellow workers. As an equal, you are trying to improve the level of cooperation.
Getting It DONE. Copyright � by Roger Fisher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.