Are you naturally collaborative?

This question is part of the mystery of the nature of humankind. What are we in essence? And in influencing collaboration in people and groups are we taking people back towards, or away from, their natural behavioural roots?

  • Watching children play, the answer is ‘obvious’ – girls are, boys aren’t.
  • Experiencing a live orchestra – a big yes.
  • Watching the amount of violence and aggression in the media, you must conclude that we are aggressive, violent and selfish – that’s a ‘no’ then.
  • Musing on the question, ‘How does a city get fed every day’ – voluntary collaboration just happens with nobody in charge! A ‘yes’ then.
  • Watching crowds at football matches – collaboration extends as far as tribal borders! So yes and no.
  • Looking at the amount of global resource that is put into keeping human beings in check – the police, security, laws, walls, borders, military, etc – you must conclude that we cannot be trusted to be consistently collaborative.

But the biggest clue to the answer, if there is one, is when you ask yourself the question, “Am I naturally collaborative?” Most people say that most times they are; the problem is other people! And this is the nub of the conundrum. I can be trusted to be collaborative (most of the time), everyone else can’t!

And the crux of the answer lies in the phrase, ‘most of the time’. First, people’s behaviour is determined largely by the circumstances; second, we have choice in every circumstance to behave collaboratively or not. Therefore our behaviour, unlike animals, is inconsistent. Now that’s dangerous!

And here are arguably the biggest clues to improving collaboration. First, the importance of enabling people to understand their perceptions of the situation, and second, getting them to understand that their perception is just that, a perception, which is not necessarily ’the truth’, or indeed experienced by anyone else!

  1. What comes more naturally to you, to collaborate (win/win) or compete (win/lose)?
  2. How do you decide whether to collaborate or fight your corner, get defensive or start finger-pointing?
  3. What goes on in your head when you make those decisions?

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