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Thursday 29 November 2018

Secrets of successful collaboration: 4. refashion your weapons of exclusion into tools of inclusion

Either intentionally or (arguably most damagingly) unintentionally, a collaboration can exclude potentially helpful partners and contributors by using weapons of exclusion. By far the most damaging of these is language.

The language a collaboration uses is often heavily influenced by the predominant cultures, professions and disciplines of its most powerful partners. Words and phrases habitually used by these partners to describe key concepts and activities will often become the default currency of a collaboration's communication. This means that those unfamiliar with the concepts and assumptions underpinning their powerful partners' languages will quickly become disadvantaged, and likely feel excluded from the ongoing discussions and work of a collaboration. Habitual and unquestioned habits of speech will have become powerful weapons of exclusion.

To decommission these weapons, partners must be prepared to reboot their language. They will need to explore each other's key concepts and expertise, focusing on those aspects which intersect their professions and interests and are most crucial to their collaboration, and create mutually understood ways of describing and speaking about things.

Other (often inadvertent) weapons of exclusion lie in plain sight within and around the structures, processes and approaches of many a collaboration. Formal and traditionally managed meetings; large-scale conferences and the expectation of presentations; business style communication updates and consultation approaches (and the language they use and the form they take); assumptions and expectations about using and accessing email and other information technology; unshared and vigilantly guarded history and traditions; unfamiliar ceremonies and rituals; the long shadow of an overwhelming culture and assumptions about "the way things are done around here"; travelling to imposing institutional ivory towers or visiting other powerful establishment monoliths within usually inaccessible or inhospitable locations: all these things (singularly and in various combinations) can erode the confidence of partners unfamiliar with them, shrinking involvement and edging the least confident towards and through a collaboration's exit doors.   
Refashion your weapons of exclusion into tools of inclusion

Many of your tools of inclusion are, in fact, your decommissioned weapons of exclusion refashioned for benign use: language, refashioned as described above, becomes a powerful tool of engagement; meetings, tailored to the needs of partners and attended by partners trained and supported to participate and contribute, become tools of inclusive discussion and decision-making; communication updates, styled and tailored to the needs of all partners, encourage helpful reaction and response; practical, affordable, accessible, non-intrusive and intuitive information technology becomes a supportive platform for making formal connections and informal ties; sharing of history and traditions creates the possibility of a merged history that safeguards and builds upon the best of all partners' cultural worlds; sharing rituals and the reasoning and beliefs underpinning them helps reveal their power to reassure and unite people and encourage joint efforts towards achieving a shared vision; a powerful culture that exhibits humility and the willingness to embrace difference can become a strong role model for inclusive collaboration; moving out of your comfortable ivory towers or secure fiefdoms and setting-up-shop within the kingdoms and hideouts of your partners encourages respect that evolves into trust that encourages people to risk becoming involved.

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