Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The most effective collaborations always involve "co-evolution"

When you work with other people it is interesting to notice the balance of 'give and take.' By this I mean who is following the most and who is taking a stand the most.

There is a great biological term “co-evolution” which is related to symbiosis and according to Berkeley's  Understanding Evolution for Teachers means :

“cases where two (or more) species reciprocally affect each other’s evolution. So for example, an evolutionary change in the morphology of a plant, might affect the morphology of an herbivore that eats the plant, which in turn might affect the evolution of the plant, which might affect the evolution of the herbivore...and so on”.

My favourite simple example of co-evolution is one from Eve Mitleton-Kelly at the LSE Complexity Group in London who illustrates co-evolution as the relationship between your shoes and your feet: 

“Your shoes change your feet but your feet also alter your shoes”.

So true collaboration is a balancing act between being flexible and taking a stand. Nobody knows all the answers in advance so if you are inflexible in terms of what is to be done then you diminish the results possible from the collaboration. However… everybody makes mistakes so if you are unwilling to take a stand, and with it the risk of being publicly responsible for a mistake, then you also devalue your teams results.

So in effective collaborations the players are constantly dancing between flexing and taking a stand but in ineffective collaborations players are locked into one of 2 camps - the always flexing/accommodating camp or the always taking a stand camp!

So back to my original question – what is the balance of “give and take” like in your teams?

Ken Thompson (aka The BumbleBee) blogs about bioteams, virtual collaboration and business simulation at www.bioteams.com.