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Collaboration Is Not Taught In School


“Can we all get along?”

The late Rodney King spoke his famous words of despair in May of 1992 when the country was torn apart by a lack of cooperation and collaboration. My heartfelt response to his words was,

“Apparently not.”

Why is “getting along” so elusive? I think one of the reasons is that true collaborative behavior must be taught to everyone since we apparently don’t all know how to do it.

Where did you learn how to collaborate? Did you study this topic in school? I sure didn’t.

I learned a lot growing up but never the tactics of good collaborating. I hear parents telling their children, “You all must get along!” What does that mean? How does the child know what specifically to do or change? The intentions are good yet the command doesn’t work.

Imagine the challenge most of us had when entering the work force. We learn skills about presenting ourselves, working hard and searching for opportunity to thrive. We are expected to know how to collaborate with others. When I first entered corporate America, I started hearing about the importance of collaboration. At the time, I thought that if I achieved good collaboration, it meant I had persuaded team members that my way was best.

I assume that’s not how you would define collaboration. I assume, too, that you wouldn’t have wanted me on your team.

I did a cursory search to see if a higher education institution offered courses or degrees in Collaboration yet I couldn’t find any. Perhaps it exists at the more progressive institutions but this important behavior is not a mainstream curriculum item.

When you think about the challenges of building good teams, it makes sense that a team would start off with a disadvantage if each member doesn’t bring in basic knowledge about and experience in collaborating. Over time, many of us learn it well, but what if team members feel the same way I used to believe – that they would be collaborating like a champ if they get everyone to agree with them? That’s a recipe for a baffled and fractured team. In fact, if only one team member falls short in knowing how to collaborate, the whole team suffers. You’ve likely been on a team like that.

Team sports is an excellent example of collaboration. Each team member clearly understands the goal as well as the role they must play to help the team reach the goal. Transfer that model of teamwork, or collaborative behavior, into a corporate setting. Each team member must understand the goal as well as their role in helping the team reach the goal. Sounds so simple yet it doesn’t seem to be working out that easily. Rodney King may have launched an entire industry to address his plea. The industry of services to foster well-functioning teams is spectacularly huge. Many teambuilding consultants are trained to teach team members how to collaborate well. The needs get addressed, the teams achieve their goals and the consultants head to the bank. I’m okay with that.

I’m still curious about why collaborative behavior is not hard-wired into our behavior settings. And why isn’t it a part of our school curriculum? It would be helpful if collaboration is something you could count on from everyone whether you are building a business, planning an event or traveling the world.

Darcie Davis is president of Huddle Enterprises, which includes HuddleSessions.com and GamesandTeamBuilding.com. She creates innovative ways to get people connected to find cross-inspiration or to resolve problems.


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