Collaborative Working and Power Dynamics are the worst of enemies in your quest to create a collaborative culture in the workplace.

In this post I want to discuss the challenges of achieving a collaborative culture and a reason why so many attempts collapse.

I started blogging and creating development programmes promoting collaborative working back in 2013 – 2014.  Over the 8 years or so I have been involved in many different projects related to developing collaboration in the workplace.  Some have been successful, and some, well let’s just say, weren’t so successful.

Collaborative Working v Power Dynamics

Setting out to develop a collaborative culture can be both the most exciting objective and the most daunting.  To achieve this objective a massive shift in everyone’s attitude is required. As the leader of the quest your personal investment in the project is all-encompassing.

Once the niceties’ and platitudes are out of the way you will soon come up against the existing ‘power’ dynamics.  Ultimately, this is where many collaborative ventures fail.

In order to achieve a collaborative culture the existing power dynamics have to be shifted.  Without the full engagement of those involved in the power dynamics your venture will fall apart.

The essential step in this type of programme is identifying the clusters of power in the organisation and setting out to influence them.  This is the ‘daunting’ aspect of this work.  Power does not shift easily and those in the power dynamics can be the most stubborn and resistant to any change.  You may well find that your sponsor is unwittingly involved in the power dynamics blocking your progress.

Power Dynamics

Collaborative Working and Power DynamicsThe quote opposite sums up perfectly the experience of any change facilitator working in the field of collaborative working.

I’m not talking about the organisational structure. Power rarely exists in the charts. Power exists in the relationships within teams.

Pinpointing the epicentre of the group dynamics is notoriously difficult. Despite this, many a brave-heart will set out on a hero’s journey to destroy the power that stands in their way. Failure is inevitable…I’m Spartacus…springs to mind!

Understanding the nature of the power used by the group is the key.

Not all power expresses itself as aggressive and confrontational, the stereotypical powerful man.

In my experience dealing with a passive-aggressive powerful group is more typical. In this dynamic finding the epicentre of power is even more difficult. Passive aggressive types tend not to be too keen on being centre stage.

This especially true when you’re working with ‘dyed in the wool’ leaders and managers. In industries where there is a ‘right way’ to do things or a tradition of client / contractor game playing dynamics, this is what you’ll face.

They will also have an army of loyal followers committed to the status quo.

Whatever the power dynamics you come across in your work engaging them in their world will lead to you becoming overwhelmed and ultimately failing in your efforts.

Power Dynamics and Collaborative Relationships

Collaborative Working and Power DynamicsPower dynamics within a group can only be maintained whilst all involved are fully focused on winning.  This is the anti-thesis of collaborative working.  Winning in a passive-aggressive group seems a misnomer. Resisting change and maintaining their way of doing things is a victory, after all.

In a collaborative setting with multiple stakeholders there is no space for a group focused on winning their own prize.  If this exists in your collaborative venture, the venture will collapse.

For a power dynamic to be sustained all the players have to continually re-commit their full energy to sustaining that dynamic.  As soon as the players start focusing their energy on other more attractive options the power dynamic is weakened.  It’s common to find that most people involved in such a dynamic are not consciously aware of their involvement.  They simply collude with what has always been done, or what they have been told is the way things get done here.

The possibility of greater influence and success through personal development is something that will interrupt a power dynamic.

It is only through personal development that individuals start adopt new values and a sense of purpose.  Personal development creates greater self-awareness resulting in a thirst to collaborate with others.

Collaboration happens when individuals choose to abandon a competitive approach and adopt a collaborative approach.  A collaborative approach is based on trust, sharing and being proactive.

All these qualities are perfectly summed up in Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective People book and his Maturity Continuum model.

Obviously, it is not as simple as reading a book and emerging as a collaborative person.  A lot of personal development is required to identify and let go of the blocks and toxins that keep you pegged in ’competitive’ mode rather than embracing ‘collaboration’ as your modus operandi.

Moving from Power Dynamics to Collaborative Relationships

Over the last 8 years Seek First Ltd has developed programmes that have seen many individuals make this shift. Not only are they enjoying more success they are living happier more fulfilled lives.

Let’s be clear, personal development is a tough option. Letting go of the toxins that bind people to being who they’ve always been is the hardest thing anyone can do. The benefits, though, are huge! Personal development is the key to shifting ingrained power dynamics.

We offer different options for our programmes.  Our open programmes are available to anyone seeking to make a difference to their life by letting go of the toxins holding them back.  Meanwhile, we also work with organisations looking to create a more collaborative culture to develop in-house programmes.  

Starting with our practitioner level programme ‘becoming your proactive self’, step into your authentic self and let go of the negativity keeping you locked into unhealthy dynamics. Progressing on to our master practitioner level programme ‘leading your proactive life’ you re-define what drives you and create a new purpose for your life.  You will also learn how to facilitate this high-level change in others. You can then take a deeper dive into the elements of the two programmes and become expert in the individual components of collaborative working.

If you believe personal development is just ‘soft skills’ you probably belong to the ‘dyed in the wool’ brigade mentioned earlier. If you’re looking to break out of the rut either personally or as an organisation, get in touch.  We can help you take the leap and keep you moving towards your desired outcome.

Find out more about collaborative working and transforming power dynamics within your workplace by contacting Paul McGowran, listen@seekfirst.co.uk