8 ways to lower your collaboration threshold

I have recently been enjoying listening to the new Revisionist History podcast by Malcolm Gladwell. This episode is all about why smart people do dumb things. For instance why do basketball players shoot free throws overarm despite overwhelming evidence that throwing underarm is more effective?

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The answer is really very simple. People behave based on how those around them behave – we all are subject to peer pressure, and some a lot more so than others. Given that all basketball players shoot free throws overarm, this creates a big disincentive for anybody to use any other method, even if it is more successful. They don’t want to look dumb in front of their peers. This effect is known as threshold models of collective behaviour and described in this seminal paper by Mark Gravenotter.

So this got us thinking about how do you use this peer pressure for good? Specifically to consciously lower your collaboration threshold to make it easier to work with others. So here are a few ways we’ve learned to lower your threshold for collaboration.

  1. Don’t do too much – Consciously stop what you are doing before you are finished and pass it on. In other words make sure you leave room for the creative contributions of others to build upon your work.
  2. Expect the unexpected – Welcome and embed the unexpected actions of others and try to respond well when they do something you don’t expect, which they always will (which is a good thing).
  3. Foster generosity Consciously ask for help more often and at the same time try to find new ways to be helpful to others regularly too.
  4. Learn by doing – Find and test small opportunities to collaborate with others and see what happens. In other words act your way into a new way of thinking, rather than think your way into a new way of acting.
  5. Mix it up – Proactively maximize the diversity of your contributors, and look to find new ways and modes of communication and interaction.
  6. Equalize participation – Make sure everybody has an equal opportunity to contribute. Use facilitators or stopwatches to ensure that some individuals don’t dominate and everybody can join in.
  7. Check in little and often – Find the right moment and medium to check in with others little and often. See what is on their mind and share what is on yours too, and often unexpected connections will emerge.
  8. Keep on trying – Collaboration is really hard so requires considerable patience and empathy. Everything is a work in progress so if at first you don’t succeed, you know what to do.

Hopefully by consciously following the 8 steps above, collective behaviour start to spread like a benign virus within your organisation or network. As ever we’d welcome your creative and collaborative comments, questions or builds.

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