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Smashing the Silos Series #2

Common Ground Not Higher Ground
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This series of tips is for leaders who are serious about getting their teams working together with others in a collaborative way for greater innovation, effectiveness and learning. Small steps which are crucial for building integrated ways of working and smashing the silos that create slow, cumbersome and outdated modes of delivery.

Tip #2

Common Ground Not Higher Ground

Recently I was fortunate enough to have Jason in one of my workshops. Jason is an educator who works with youth that are either in jail, or in school and have recently been in jail. Tough job.   He and his staff are dedicated to creating an environment where youth who are already battling with so many odds stacked against them feel valued and heard.

We were talking about beliefs and how the core beliefs driving our work need to be transparent in our actions. Jason shared that in his school, their main tenet is: Common Ground, Not Higher Ground. This belief firmly declared that relationships in that school were not about hierarchy, but about partnerships.

This belief is also critical if you are trying to build strong collaborative partnerships that are more than just coordinating resources, dates and tasks. Whenever we step up into more complex and involved collaborations, we need to drop hierarchy and a sense that one person has more power than others in the group. In fact, the more connected and vital the partnership is, the lower the hierarchy should be.

Perhaps it needs us to drop our ego a bit too, and the need to be right. Just like the kids at Jason’s school, we all want to feel that we have input, autonomy and choice and there’s nothing more soul destroying to collaborative endeavours that one person exerting authority over others. It’s a very ‘I’ way to work – and coming from ‘I’ when we are trying to encourage ‘we’ is counter productive and harmful.

The energy we create when we are interacting with each other can determine the possibility of a positive outcome. Is the energy of the group abrasive or in flow? Are people able to voice their opinions and ideas in a supportive partnership environment, or does the group look to one person for their reaction? This energy is the power dynamic that can be evident in the group. Strong power dynamics, especially unnamed ones, can lead to a lack of transparency and honesty.
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Judith Glaser and Jerry Manas in 42 Rules for Creating We describe this power dynamic as a power-with rather than a power-over dance.   It requires people to understand when the power dynamic is at play, and rather than resist it, push against it, or run away from it ( a fight, flight, freeze response), step into an adult response to it , acknowledge it and find different ways to interact.

Where could your teams work more effectively by dropping the hierarchical norms that are pervasive in highly structured organisations and get focused on having productive, creative interactions that are about sharing common ground, not having the higher ground?