Why getting present is an important step towards collaboration

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Mike Straw

Written by Mike Straw

Why getting present is an important step towards collaboration

In our last article we saw how Breakthrough Collaboration enables us to respond to a fast changing world with innovation and speed. Today we explore how getting present can make that collaboration happen.


Breakthrough Collaboration is the kind of collaboration all businesses should aim for: a partnership in which we are completely empowered and engaged, that multiplies our ability to achieve the extraordinary. It happens when both parties are working as one, fully committed to the same outcome. But how do you actually achieve this? 


It begins with a Breakthrough Mindset. A mindset that can only be sustained by getting present: to your own reality and the reality of others, to the market and the collective perspective, to your context and to the greater possibilities at stake.


Defining the presence problem 

Being present is a notion found everywhere these days but true presence still eludes many of us. Our minds are full of ideas, agendas, worries and the little voice inside our head that distracts us from what’s important. And we often unconsciously lose touch with the collective perspective.


When we’re trying to collaborate with another business, team or department this can rob us of the partnership’s potential. We might set out to create a game-changing innovation in mind but when we aren’t present to it our focus and priorities drift. The other group looms as a competitor or threat rather than a partner - and we stop being present to them too. 


Concerned about being overly transparent, we conceal our true thinking behind tinted glass. And we soon find our partnership is plugged by microdetail and delivering business as usual. We might still be working on the same project but our strategic agendas have found a fork in the road and - perhaps subtly - taken different paths.


The key to seeing the world clearly

Of course you can’t stay fully aligned in a collaboration if you aren’t aligned in the beginning. You need to have a bigger picture, a breakthrough you’re all aiming for. Then, by keeping your eye on the greater context of what your collaboration could drive, you become free to think in new ways.


When you’re present to the bigger picture, it anchors Breakthrough Collaboration. Processes and systems won’t hold it in place alone. But your aligned commitment can.


Getting present enables us to get curious. And our curiosity enables the world to come into focus. We start to see the whole system in its complexity, but with surprising clarity from a macro viewpoint - and we start questioning the way we have always done things. Breakthrough innovation comes within our reach.


But before we reach for that innovation, sometimes even before we begin to look for it, a little voice chimes in… and can derail us completely.


Getting present to our own reality

 We need to become aware of our own thinking. Of our own biases, assumptions and frames of reference. Of our old beliefs and the past experiences that shape them. Because all of these components can be heard in the little voice inside our head. 


You cannot escape it. It’s a part of what makes us human and not machine. It will always be active, generating assumptions and colouring the way we see everything: possibilities, people, our own place in the world.


Under its influence, we make judgements about others, doubt whether we’re fit for a task, imagine that a market is impenetrable or that this partnership is never going to work out, really. And we shrink from Breakthrough Collaboration. 


Of course, the little voice doesn’t play out in isolation but in a much wider context. This is why it is essential to be present to your context, to yourself but also to the collective you, to your team and to the other teams you are collaborating with. 


Unless we’re present to ourselves and our context, we end up allowing our little voice to decide our actions for us, to disregard the input of others, and limit the perimeters of our team’s thinking and ideas. But once we’re aware of its influence we can choose to thank the little voice for its input - and act differently.


Getting present outside of your reality

 A little while ago we worked with an HR team in an energy company that was reforming. It was shifting from a regional business partner model to become one central team that would support all hubs. But there was a problem. People were quietly disgruntled about the move and a crust of resentment was beginning to form.


It was essential here for leaders to not only become aware of their own reality but also to get present outside their reality. They needed to look beyond their own experience of events and stand in the shoes of others without bias or judgement. 


This perceptual positioning, this stepping outside of our silos and into the minds of others, enables us to see problems in a new light. To reevaluate our own experience through the lens of another. When we are present to the reality of others, it creates a safe place for honest dialogue and straight talking. 


As it turns out, the little voices in the organisation were making a silent racket in reaction to the restructure. Beneath the surface, people were thinking, ‘You used to be my guy…  who’s in charge now… you used to feel like a resource, now I don’t think I can approach you… this organisational structure is not going to work out…’


The leaders in that organisation needed to become present, both to their own doubts and to how others were taking this restructure. The mindset of their organisation would ultimately decide whether this move was a failure or a success.


Getting present when collaboration stutters

Are we committed to being right or are we committed to an outcome? Are we determined to cling to our old reputation or are we reaching out for something new? Are we lost in our own frames of reference or are we present to others and a collective view? Don’t answer yet. It’s almost impossible to answer these questions accurately until things start to go wrong.


When we commit to Breakthrough Collaboration, when we’re present to its possibility and to a collective perspective, we will find a way to make the desired outcome happen. Even despite ineffective processes.


Let’s take a personal example. When we undertake diets or exercise regimes, we can often overemphasise the process. We draft up our schedules and plans - the types of food we’re going to avoid, the days we’re going to head to the gym - and we set off.


But the moment the process blips - when Christmas comes around, or we miss the gym because we’ve got a cold - it’s only those who are guided to a greater commitment who can keep momentum. They’re not dependent upon the reliability of a process, they’re driven by the desire to make something happen. They are present to the possibility of what could be.


The same is true of your leadership, your team, your organisation - and your partnerships. When there is miscommunication over the scope, details or timing of a project - and your team is forced back a step or two, perhaps even to the drawing board - it is easy for people to get discouraged. Your team might not throw themselves so wholeheartedly into the project the second time around. They might just want to get it off their desk.


But you can help your team to stay present to the greater picture, to the other party and to one another, they’ll be able to access the same enthusiasm they had at first. Even when they have to retread their steps, rethink their ideas or rework their designs - so long as they can get re-present, your team will be able to bring their A-game once again. 

Staying present to everything needed for Breakthrough Collaboration isn’t easy. But it is game-changing. Maybe even market-disrupting. Check out our partnership and collaboration services or get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your ambitions.


Published 01/12/2020

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