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When Conventional Collaboration Is Not an Option, the Experts Use Stretch Collaboration

Forging collaboration among persons, teams, and organizations can sometimes be a perfect storm. Often, we expect that members who oppose each other will just blend in when working together on their most crucial and difficult mutual problems. Yet, situations like these can cause circumstances to veer out of control. Conflicts can erupt that may be unresolvable.

The conventional model of collaboration can be a faux pas when it comes to these situations. Yet, the importance of collaboration is more emphasized today where problems have become more global and magnified.

Collaboration with enemies is a skill worth retooling.

Asking the Right Questions

Business confrontations can be dramatic, but most are not. There are circumstances that might veer out of control. There are conflicts that seem to be unresolvable. We cannot apply more basic principles, such as building effective teams.  This can be a dilemma for companies on how to move forward and initiate collaboration in situations like this.

Collaboration is often initiated by asking the right questions. Leadership must learn to ask 5 crucial questions to initiate collaboration. Answering these questions can involve a delicate dance of managerial authority and employee adaptation. The boss can lead everyone to see the problem the same way and then agree on a way forward. But, what if the opposite occurs. When this happens, it is time to introduce Stretch Collaboration.

What Is Stretch Collaboration?

Collaborating under normal circumstances may be easy. But today where business is so volatile and disruptive, every player may take an opposing end.

  • What if the people in the room are working at cross-purposes?
  • What if they cannot even agree on what the problem is, must less how to solve it?
  • What if there is low trust among the people and there is no one who can control the situation?
  • What if the only thing people can agree on is that the situation is unacceptable and must be changed?

Placed in a difficult situation, the best approach is to find a way to collaborate despite disagreements.
Agreement is off the table in a situation like this. Stretch Collaboration is just the way to go.

The 3 Principles of Stretch Collaboration

The 3 Stretch Collaboration Principles are crucial in addressing the key questions of collaboration.
1st Principle: Accept the Plurality of the Situation

Every participating person, team, and organization is a whole. Interacting with other wholes, each person, team, and organization carries a different idea of what is and what should be.

By working together, collaboration gets shaped depending on the situation that people, teams, and organizations are confronted with.

2nd Principle: Experiment to Find a Way Forward

Success is not achieved by coming up with a solution. Success is achieved when everyone is working toward it. Stretch collaboration requires a good understanding that we cannot control the future but we can influence it.

3rd Principle: Understand You are Part of the Problem

Progress is impossible until we recognize that we are part of the situation. If we are not part of the problem then we cannot be part of the solution.

Putting the principles into action can be a challenge. But, it has shown successful results when applied in addressing crucial problems and conditions. It has been effective when it involves high-level positions having opposing views and opinions.

In the truest sense, Stretch Collaboration is collaborating with the enemy. It is a skill that companies must learn today. In a volatile world where discord has become a natural occurrence, it is one skill that is most crucial in management. While we cannot control the future, we can still influence it.

Interested in gaining more insights on Stretch Collaboration and how we can better manage it? You can learn more and download an editable Powerpoint about Stretch Collaboration here on the Flevy documents marketplace.

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About Joseph Robinson

Joseph Robinson is the Vice President of Strategy at Flevy. Flevy is a marketplace for business documents--specifically, documents used by folks who work in a business function (e.g. Marketing, Corporate Finance, IT, etc.). These documents can range from Excel Financial Models to customizable PowerPoint Templates to "How-To"​ Business Frameworks, covering management topics from Digital Transformation to Growth Strategy to Lean Management. You can peruse a full list of management topics available on Flevy here. Prior to Flevy, Joseph worked as an Associate at BCG and holds an MBA from the Sloan School of Management at MIT. You can connect with Joseph on LinkedIn here.


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