Whilst much is spoken about collaboration, in the business and academic worlds true collaboration is rare. All too often competition for limited funding and other narrow or vested interests prevent a true spirit of co-creation, shared ownership or genuine joint venture. But there are a few examples. And from these we can tease out the essential ingredients.
A sense of community, for example: a deep and meaningful sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself or one’s department. When did you last feel that within a work situation?
That is a serious and important question that I’d like you to reflect on: when did you last feel anything in a work situation, other than overworked and stressed?
But why shouldn’t staff and customers be happy and feel valued? Indeed in Higher Education, for example, ‘Student Experience’ is a key driver for many initiatives. But what do we been by involvement? Are we, in providing an organisation’s culture and ethos, really getting to the heart of engagement?
But meaningful involvement can and does happen and is, I would suggest, essential if those involved in a collaborative project are to feel secure and relaxed enough to engage with each other as fellow human-beings beyond personal goals and expectations.
Belonging in the workplace
I've been lucky enough to experience such a sense of community in a number of work settings. As an electronic and quality engineer I felt it at Plessey Research Caswell. The result of this atmosphere was a world renowned centre of excellence and innovation, as I describe in this article.
A second example was the Experience of Worship, a major UK Research Council funded action research project, led by Prof. John Harper at Bangor University. Acknowledged as an exemplary example of practice-led research (similar in approach to Action Research or Participate Enquiry) the participants from a number of universities and from across a spectrum of disciplines (including History, Musicology and Liturgy) each, in their own way, engaged fully in an enactment of a medieval worship. The impact was both academic and personal (see, for example Beasley, Aveling & Moss, 2016).
As the founders and proponents of Action Research and Participate Enquiry emphasise (e.g. McIntosh, 2010; McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 1996; Reason, 1994), when research concerns human subjects, what those humans sense and how they feel is every bit as important to understanding the situation as is the factual evidence. (Likewise in teaching & learning where experiential and embedded learning requires the active participation of the student). Whilst hard, objective, data is still vital, the full picture usually requires an awareness of the subjective evidence. Humans are, after all, thinking, feeling, beings.
In business as in academia, soft-skills are being increasingly valued. How can any of us engage in meaningful collaboration unless we are willing and able to acknowledge, for example, that a partner is struggling emotionally with some aspects of our shared work? This is Emotional Intelligence in practice. 17 years in Quality Assurance taught me that how we feel affects how well we do our job, whatever that job is.
No amount of detailed processes, procedures or systems can make up for a working environment in which an individual feels ignored or under appreciated. There is no alternative to caring for our colleagues and about our project.
What these two, very different examples have in common is that those working in both situations felt able to be and express themselves as individuals and that their unique contribution was valued. Because of this, and because of a shared passion for the intent of the projects they were involved in, a shared commitment to the ‘greater goal’ was enabled.
So, how can such a sense of community be enabled? That really is the point: it is not a ‘thing’ that can be planned or controlled. It has to come from the heart. In these two examples the people in charge recognised this important point and demonstrated it in their interactions with those who worked for them, authentically, naturally.
Being wholly human
It is perhaps a matter of stepping back from ‘being a researcher’ or being an historian or an administrator and remembering that first and foremost we are all fellow human beings (see Beasley 2012).
Collaboration requires a sense of community and community requires a deep and meaningful engagement. There are no quick fixes, no box-ticking techniques to make this happen. It has to come from within.
Beasley, K. (2012) ‘Beyond ‘isms & ‘ologies: Being a Researcher, Being Human’, Beyond the Field Conference, Aberystwyth, November 9-10 2012 (See abstract; See presentation slides)
Beasley, K., Aveling J. & Moss, J.F. (2016) 'Reflections on the Enactments: Voices from the Nave' in Harper, S., Barnwell, P.S. & Williamson, M. (eds) The Experience of Late Medieval Worship, Ashgate, 2016, pp259-269
McIntosh, P. (2010) Action Research and Reflective Practice, Abington: Routledge, 2010.
McNiff, J. Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (1996) You and Your Action Research Project, New York & London: Routledge, 1996.
Reason, P. (1994) Participation in Human Inquiry: Research with People, London, Sage, 1994.
Dr Keith Beasley is co-founder of Working with Wisdom
Dr keith beasley
As an engineer turned life-guide and Quality Assurance expert who did his PhD on 'Transcending Thought', I've seen life from many perspectives. We need them all to even begin to make sense of life . . .
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