Collaboration: To be, or not to be

In today’s ever connected world, you will be called upon time and time again to work in partnership within a team or with another organisation. But what does it mean to be truly collaborative? IECL’s Head of Education, Jane Porter reflects on this, sharing the key things to be aware of when it comes to collaboration.


At an IECL company offsite we were joined by Dr Susan Long to talk to us about collaboration. Interesting choice of topic I thought, as my view at that time was that as an organisation we were almost too collaborative. What was the point investing a whole day in something we seemingly knew and did enough of?

On the day I was stopped in my judgmental thinking tracks by the idea presented that “collaboration is an ‘output’ and not an ‘input’. It’s not something we ‘do’ it’s something we ‘become’ together”. I was also intrigued with the idea presented that it was a systemic output made up of my interests, the interests of the team, and the interests of the organisation.

Nice concept, but how is this really possible?

Dr Long works from the perspective that collaboration is an output of an effective system, in other words a group that comes together to create something other than the current reality.

Whilst systems are complex she suggests there are three key things to be aware of when it comes to collaboration:

  1. Everyone in the system has a role, and the system will look a certain way from the perspective of this role.
  2. Each person will present in a certain way depending on what the system brings up for them.
  3. Each person will have developed internal images about how other roles should present in the system.

I found myself also asking the question what internal images might I have developed about my own role and how it ‘should’ be. I now consider how I might interact differently with my own role for more effective collaboration. When I enter a group or system for the purposes of ‘collaboration’, I leave my ‘doing’ self at the door and see what we can become. So far, it’s yielded some very interesting results; collaboration has actually happened when I was able to simply ‘be’ in the system, and drop an agenda that I might be trying to force on others.

Further reference

We take a systems approach to our leadership development programs.

Jane Porter is a Master Certified Coach (MCC with ICF) and Head of Education, working across APAC both in person and virtually. Her focus is on increasing the ability of Executives and Internal Corporate Coaches to deal with complexity.