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How to make any collaborative partnership fail

  How to make any collaborative partnership fail
‘Let's form a task force’. They cheered as they charged into the night carrying torches ready to solve the challenge before them.

It seems as if forming some sort of collaborative partnership is an automatic, almost required response to a problem. Just even thinking you want to form some sort of collaborative partnership produces a almost unstoppable degree of momentum.

Yet, as humans we are wired for social interaction, so there is always a degree of automatic behaviour that drives the formation and maintenance of collaborative partnerships.

What if you don’t want to collaborate? What if you would prefer to just work on your own?

You could actively engage in making your collaborative partnership fail. If does you can go back to working on your own.

If this is what you want to do here are 7 ways to drive any collaborative partnership into failure:

1. Work on your own, or with just a fraction of the group or team

Conventional wisdom is that small teams are better. It is certainly the case that a small group is able to decide and move things along faster.

However, when you work only with a small group you don’t have as great of a breadth of expertise available to you as you do when the group is larger. Action on your own degrades the effectiveness of a collaborative partnership and pushes it towards failure.

Here’s an example. In a large multi-stakeholder research consortium we were faced with  a technical challenge that needed to be solved. Instead of discussing the problem in appropriate work package that consisted of 10-15 members, it was decided that a group of 2 or 3 would work on solving the problem.

They did.

They met several times.

Made little progress.

Discussions were heading towards ‘we need to throw a lot of money at it and even then it might not be solved’.

Fortunately at a larger meeting that included the full work package one of the attendees, who was not part of the smaller group spoke up. ‘We have already solved that problem, and it does not cost a lot.’

By working in a small group the opportunity to find a quick easy solution was missed.

The number one collaborative partnership killer is intractable problems that block progress. By working on you decrease the chances that the easy and efficient solution, and heighten the risk of consortium fatigue.

2. Be a narcissist:

A narcissist is someone who only believes in their own ideas almost to the point of ignoring the viewpoints of others.

A flaming narcissist will even cut down good ideas just because they are not his or hers.

Don’t get this wrong.

Narcissists tend to have good ideas. It is just that a single person's ideas are never as powerful as the genius a group can deliver.

Most large collaborative projects have at least one narcissist,

They tend to be the people who join a call late and interrupt someone mid discussion to say they have arrived. They also tend not to pay attention at all to discussion and repeat something that was just said.

It is not pleasant to be part of a working group that contains a narcissist.

So, if you want your collaborative partnership to fail, be a narcissist.

3. Pivot discussions before the group reaches a decision, or decides upon next actions

A difficult topic is breached. Multiple people make good points. You are thinking ‘this is good discussion’ then it happens.

Someone seizes on a piece of the discussion and pivots the discussion away from the current topic.

Someone else then takes the bait.

Before you know it, you are talking about an entirely different topic, meanwhile the important topic still remains open, no decision made, no action planned.

A good facilitator can bring the discussion back around. Without a good facilitator meetings and conference calls can quickly become pointless. If you want your collaborative partnership to go nowhere fast, sabotage meeting facilitators, and pivot discussions.

4. Make conflict emotional

Conflict is important for getting things done. Take it too far and it will have the opposite effect.

Don’t just calmly explain why you think otherwise.

Add some color and tell others in the partnership that you think their points of view are ill considered, and that they could not think their way out of a paper bag, a wet paper bag.

You could also be more subtle and sigh deeply after someone is done making his or her point, or just start talking over them when they make a point you don’t agree with.

When conflicts become personal or emotional they polarize a group, and a polarized collaborative partnership is one that has a high risk of failing.

5. Annoint yourself as part of the 80% that does not contribute

It is often the case that in a collaborative partnership 80% of the work is done by 20% of the partners.

If you want your collaborative partnership to fail do nothing that has been asked of you. You could flaunt your lack of action. ‘I’ll get to that when I get to it, maybe in 6 months or so.’

Or, you could try ‘Gee, this is a great group. I have not done a thing and I am getting all the benefits’. This will certainly diminish the esprit de corps, and if anything accelerate the decline of the collaboration.

6. Make sure there is a lot of noise in the background on conference calls

Conference calls are an essential tool for collaborative partnerships. They allow for a degree of continuous communication between face to face meetings.

Do something like connect with your computer’s microphone and call in with a speaker phone. Soon, members of your collaborative partnerships will give up on conference calls, communication will become suboptimal, and you be left with working in silos.

7. Hold on to work until it is done

When you work in a collaborative partnership people expect to contribute.

They also expect transparency.

By holding on to your work until you close out any opportunity for them to make meaningful contributions.

But, what if working in a silo is not enough for you?

It is fairly certain that if you do the above 7 things, or just some of them routinely, most if not all of your collaborative partnerships will collapse into a state of silo working chaos.

You can then get on with working as you always have. However, it may be that working in a silo is not enough for you.

Sure at some point and time working in your own lab alone, or in your garage was a good strategy for creating breakthroughs, and it still remains a productive way of working.

But many of the challenges we are currently facing, and the advances in technology we have experienced mean that collaborative partnerships are essential for the most ambitious innovation projects.

Which means if you want to contribute to advancing your field, and become a change agent, don’t do any of the above.

When you invest effort in a collaborative partnership it is magical. It unlocks progress, and things begin to happen.

It does, however, have to be the right effort. The wrong effort drives everyone apart.

Getting the most out of collaborative partnerships is a valuable skill that requires a particular approach. You can dedicate yourself to acquiring that skill.

Begin by vowing to do the opposite of what is outlined above.