When collaborations go bad

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —November 23, 2006
Filed in Collaboration

Here’s a great video describing how a collaboration between Rob Fulup and Michael Schrage (author of Serious Play) hit a low point but got back on track with assistance from Bernie DeKoven. There are a couple of reasons why I liked this clip: the information is presented as a story where Rob and Michael recount their poor collaboration experience and how it was turned around—it makes the 8 minutes compelling; and, the use of a facilitator and a communication tool to somewhat depersonalise their ideas so the collaborators (antagonists) could focus on content rather than each others’ failings (as they saw them).

In one of my first blog posts (Back again bemoaning the limitations of text), three blog-sites ago, I made the observation that communication tools and artifacts (perhaps related to boundary objects) are important devices for co-creating meaning. Back then I was particularly interested in the role of diagrams.

The ability for collaborators to sketch diagrams as a way to create and communicate ideas has considerable advantages over collaborating using a discussion forum approach that relies predominantly on text . The key difference lies in the fact that a diagram is co-created and its meaning is developed through the interchange between the collaborators. The meaning of words, however, are generally predefined and significant effort is required to convey accurately what you mean.

In the case of Rob and Michael they used a software tool that enabled them to capture and prioritise their ideas and project them on a wall. Nothing new there. Mindmanger could be used, for example. I think the real transformation was facilitated by Bernie as he asked questions, rephrased statements and gently guided the conversation.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

One Response to “When collaborations go bad”

  1. Bernie DeKoven Says:

    Yes, o yes, yes. It was 1) a transformation, and 2) required persistent, gentle guidance. So subtle that even I, after a while, forgot. Thanks, Shawn, for being one of the few to notice.
    The technology (regardless of which software tools were being used) was only a tool, a better flipchart. But helping them use the tool, helping them focus, helping them listen to each other, helping them stay in tune – this is the real art of what I eventually called “Technography.” This is what makes the whole system work. The computer. The projector. The software. And the component we sometimes call “facilitator.”

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