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Six principles of “extreme collaboration”

Co-author: Giselle Della Mea


Ubuntu, “I am because we are,” is a South African cultural concept personified by Nelson Mandela, the modern statesman who unified a country at war. Among the many meanings of Ubuntu are trust, empathy, generosity, humanity, and phrases like “if everyone wins, you win” and “the common good is your own good.”


According to Mandela, Ubuntu does not mean that people should not look after themselves; rather, it asks: How we can look after ourselves and enable our community to do the same? In other words, we cannot collaborate and support wellness in others without being well ourselves.


From the scientific sphere, Humberto Maturana, Lynn Margulis, Fritjof Capra and other systemic thinkers point out that the evolution of life on Earth has not, as we are taught, occurred according to the notion of “might makes right,” but by the natural selection of the organisms that adapt best to their environment. In symbiogenesis, natural selection rewards organisms that relate to one another through mutualism, whereby the existence of one individual supports the existence of the other. Every living organism requires an ecological niche that, in turn, is related interdependently to other ecological niches. In other words, collaboration is central to the persistence and evolution of life on Earth.


In jazz, improvisation is the art of collaboration. Musicians “negotiate their agendas” from a deep base of trust, attentive and empathetic listening, and the generosity of one musician with others. “I am because we are.”


Collaborative thinking and culture are still rarely practiced in companies, universities, organizations and governments. On the contrary, it is the culture of individualism and competitive advantage that has brought us to where we are, with all the good and the bad that it entails. For centuries we have lived according to a reductionist and degenerative paradigm.

“Advantage” means superiority, excellence in comparison to the other, which creates contexts of inequality. The limits of our planet and our present-day reality invite us to apply our creativity to the generation of collaborative advantages; so, How can we exceed our own excellence through collaboration with others, generating a better result for all parties?


6 underlying principles of the culture of extreme collaboration

1. Define the “How” and begin the process

The question of “How” we work is as important as “What” we do. The continuous building of trust-based relationships, mutual support and the well-being of all is key. Carefully define the initial agreements and ground rules of the group: openness to change, experimentation and continuous adaptation.

Simplicity, or the art of minimizing the amount of work done, should be an ongoing quest for all involved. Experience complementary co-leadership (two people with complementary skills sharing leadership responsibility). Listening, empathy, perception, observation, and the profound conversations that result are essential to maintaining the associative spirit of a healthy collective body.

● Support yourself with tools that allow you to highlight, organize and visualize all of the iterations.

● Create frameworks that help to navigate, order and prioritize the actions of the theory of change.

● If you succeed in implementing the process, you will see that the process in turn supports the right people at each point in time.

2. From divergent inspiration to the convergence of a common narrative The feeling that we are all on the same page requires a creative process that is open to a wide range of views, in which collective learning is valued and divergence is part of the team’s evolutionary journey.

The convergence of purpose should then be the focus, building a shared narrative and agreeing that it is better to be together than to agree. In a diverse group, consensus is almost impossible; instead, more inclusive decision-making methodologies are needed, such as consent, since “the wisdom of the group exceeds individual capacity.”

Frameworks such as Sociocracy 3.0 offer numerous social tools, practices and technologies to support the power of collaborative work.


3. Strengthen the emerging collective with the ancestral Ancestry, experience and balance; the future pushes forth from the past. Communities have memory and generate collective knowledge through repetition—spontaneous processes that lay the fertile foundation for their evolution and transformation.

It is vital that the ancestry, seniority and experience of those who came before are recognized and respected. Take advantage of and integrate previous knowledge and learning. At the same time, work on belonging. All individuals have the right to belong, but each is important in their own way and has their place both alongside the others and in relation to the objectives of the system.

The individual and the collective must be attentive to the balance between giving and receiving from everyone for everyone. The most powerful form of leadership is by example and, in the process, by sharing learnings, best practices and new tools with the larger group, thus enabling everyone to learn and improve.


4. Look after the energy field, from entropy to syntropy

Collaboration requires an “energy field”—a driving force of traction and organization generated by one or more individuals. The greater the diversity and distribution of the team, the more powerful and resilient its traction and leadership.

Greater diversity also means greater complexity. As such, we must get used to working well with people with whom we normally do not agree. On every collaborative journey there is fear, anxiety, confusion and frustration. The fabric of the collective is sustained by always keeping in mind the common purpose and not taking to heart tensions and divergences.

It is at times of uncertainty that we most need to adopt patterns that simplify and return us to a firm material state. In chemistry we learn about entropy, which is the natural tendency of a system towards disorder (i.e., solid > liquid > gas), while syntropy is the other way around: it is the degree of internal organization of a system. To work in syntropy is to generate a virtuous energy that orders and promotes optimal relational dynamics between the individuals in a system, thus enhancing their evolution, maturity and resilience, as in the example of Syntropic Agriculture.


5. Promote transparency, equivalence and self-responsibility

Transparency must be total. Information has to flow and be accessible to everyone. Important information is constantly updated to the group and historical information archived for reference.

The greater the information symmetry, the better the equivalence between the individuals in the group and the stronger the feeling of belonging will be, thus enabling the implementation of a culture of self-responsibility. The individual is responsible for performing their task to the best of their ability and has autonomy to manage their time and actions in order to maximize their contribution to the common goal.


6. Open the code and let it flow. Nobody creates alone

Creation is the action of giving existence to something from nothing, but human beings are incapable of starting from nothing. We are inspired by things that already exist: by nature, by dialogue, by images, by reading a book; we nourish ourselves with infinite situations, elements and objects that stimulate and awaken the creative process. It is an act of egotism to say “I created this alone”. Really, you create as a result of something that came before—on the basis of a pre-existing pattern. Collaboration begins with recognition of this fact. As such, nothing is yours: everything is ours.

In nature there are no patents or copyright. To induce processes of extreme collaboration, fields of trust must be created that overrule disagreements. To relinquish the energy of control and ego requires that the source be opened to its fullest extent—it requires a great act of awareness of interdependence and an understanding that closed processes have led us to “exhaust the source.” Open processes generate abundance and multiplication of synergies.



In summary…

Today more than ever the world is facing multiple challenges on a global scale. If Humanity wishes to continue cohabiting the Earth, we must rejuvenate our relationship with nature and its ecosystems and collectively build a culture of peace and justice for all societies, because no world can advance without a planet, nor humanity without dignity.

Extreme collaboration is the main evolutionary strategy of life, and these principles help to adopt patterns for regeneration of the social fabric. It all begins with a profound change from within, allowing that energy to emerge, as Otto Scharmer puts it, from egocentric to ecocentric. It is about shaping and structuring collaboration and co-creation processes in environments of maximum adaptability, generosity, trust, empathy and openness. It is about capturing the most disruptive ideas, creating healthy communities and providing solutions to planetary challenges. As in a beehive, pollinating agents are needed with a strong capacity for listening, empathy and perception, and a profound connection with the rest.


If we decide not to act from a culture of interdependence and engage in extreme collaboration for a better world, then what would be the justification for the continued support given to us by planet Earth?


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Co-author: Giselle Della Mea

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