Healthy and effective groups recognise that moving away from hierarchy and re-learning how to truly collaborate takes time, effort and commitment. The most successful groups spend at least as much time nurturing trusting relationships and processes as they do ‘getting stuff done’ and tasked-based activities. The key to creating healthy group culture is identifying, cultivating and integrating ways of supporting connection, trust and a sense of safety and appreciation within our groups and communities and the relationships within and between them.

What do we mean by ‘collaboration’?
Collaboration has become a bit of a buzz word – but what does it actually look and feel like to collaborate? We can only know what skills to learn and develop if we actually understand the nitty gritty of collaboration – which is tricky when there are so few folk around with actual experience of it over a sustained period.

What’s more, it is not enough to simply conceptually understand what collaboration is because true collaboration relies on an embodied understanding of the invisible forces underpinning how we relate with each other – and how we share power. We can read a million books about collaboration and its necessary structures and processes, but unless we are actually able to relate and communicate in a collaborative way (which requires us to be aware of our relationship with power), then invisible hierarchies will simply replace visible ones – with the former almost certainly being more destructive.

And finally, there is also the challenge that you don’t know what you don’t know. Since most if not all of us have grown up within hierarchical family, educational and professional contexts we do not really know what it feels like in our bodies to collaborate – it’s literally unknown territory and we are like parentless children learning as we go along.

At the most basic level collaboration is about relationships and relating. And to a large extent the quality of our relationships relies on our ability to offer and receive feedback in a healthy way. The extent to which we are able to collaborate is largely determined by our ability to offer, receive and respond to feedback.

Offering and Receiving Feedback
When was the last time someone gave you feedback? How did you respond? If you notice that people rarely give you feedback – have you ever wondered why? Feedback is our route to learning about ourselves and the impact we are having on others. How we respond to feedback will determine how likely people are to give you feedback in the future. If we react in a defensive way people are likely to stop feeding back to us how they feel towards us – and this is when relationships start to break down and default to unhealthy power dynamics that prevent collaboration.

Learning is in the doing
You don’t get big biceps by reading books about body building! And you won’t learn to collaborate just by reading about it. 

Contact Transition Network’s Inner Transition Coordinator clairemilne@transitionnetwork.org to find out about trainings to support you and your group to learn how to create healthy group cultures that support collaboration.

Resources:

Healthy Groups

Task-Process-Relationship model

Action learning cycle

Offering and Receiving Feedback