I recently worked on a project that required a number of different stakeholders to come together and solve some common problems. The problems were big, and there was a long laundry list of items that needed to be addressed. But what made it worse was that all of the stakeholders loathed each other. And that is putting it nicely. What was most frustrating for me is that the potential to do good together was huge – but they were getting in each other’s way.
SSIR just released an article: “Why Collaborations Fail.” Even though the group with whom I was working was not necessarily structured to be a collaboration, it could have been. The article points out the biggest issue among collaborations: the power dynamic. If you don’t address it outright, and have an open conversation about it, there’s no trust. And a lack of trust means that the work you can get done together is very limited.
Here is what I don’t understand: why is it so hard to be aware of the power dynamic? Why is it so hard to address it? The amount of energy spent talking about it behind closed doors and stressing about it and planning around it is draining. Sure, it’s a hard conversation to have – but what a better use of energy. And if you have a productive conversation, then you come up with some resolutions and move on. You can set guidelines so that you don’t get off track again. Most importantly, you can focus on doing what is most important: doing some good work and making our communities better.