Here, I will describe how you can develop meta-relationships.
Meta-relationships can be developed by doing the following things:
- Being inclusive
- Balancing formality with informality
- Focusing on people and relationships
- Focusing upon and managing emerging collaborative processes
- Developing supportive personal habits
- Developing a supportive culture
Developing supportive personal habits
People can create the interpersonal fabric from within which meta-relationships emerge by undertaking advanced interpersonal skills training and becoming familiar with and applying the principles of Emotional Intelligence.
But to ensure meta-relationships do emerge, individuals must develop an additional habit: the habit of communicating and interacting with others creatively.
To communicate and interact with others creatively is to do so with flexibility of thought and deed. Once weaved into the above mentioned interpersonal fabric, this flexibility provides the catalyst that helps transform interpersonal interactions into collaborative meta-relationships.
Below, I offer suggestions that will help you develop the habit of communicating and interacting with others creatively. Whilst writing them, I took some of my own advice (see the paragraph below about "introducing freshness") and used the insights and ideas from a new and, perhaps and first sight, unexpected source: musicians. This is a group of people from whom much can be learnt about creativity and collaboration.
In tandem with encouraging flexibility of thought and deed, the suggestions support the development of specific meta-relationship characteristics. (The bracketed paragraphs below highlight the main meta-relationship characteristics each point encourages.)
Paint a rich picture
As well as sharing your knowledge, ideas and suggestions, share why, where, when, how and with whom you discovered and developed them.
Share the story of your knowledge, ideas and suggestions. Enrich your story with contextually specific and personal details.
(Paint a rich picture of your story to help people get to know you personally as well as professionally and show that you acknowledge and value the contributions of others.)
Ask yourself the following three questions when considering a person or an idea:
- What strengths do you see?
- What weaknesses do you see?
- What do you see that is intriguing? (What do you see that is interesting, different or unique?)
(Ask the above questions to encourage your curiosity. Use the answers you gain to form a realistic view of a person or an idea and appreciate the unique contributions a person is willing and able to offer.)
Drop in the unexpected
That unexpected insight, observation or idea you keep to yourself: drop it in. That visit you keep putting off: drop in. That caring, supportive or pleasing comment you are awaiting a suitable moment to make: drop it in now. If no one expects you to have an opinion: drop one in. If no one expects your generosity or help: give it now. That person whom no one expects to be invited: invite her.
(Drop in the unexpected to encourage openness and sharing, increase inclusion, and show that you value individual contributions.)
Make time for playing and having fun
Invest time in playing with your own and others' ideas: make different assumptions about them; throw them into different, unexpected or unbelievable scenarios; use them in different and unexpected ways; link and combine them in different and unexpected ways; add to them; strip them down to their essentials.
When a "piece of play" proves particularly enjoyable, stay with and explore it for a while.
(Make time for playing and having fun so you encourage curiosity and challenge current assumptions and ways of thinking, encourage informality, and increase collaborative flexibility and resilience.)
Introduce new people and ideas into your existing collaborative relationships to freshen perspectives and stimulate new approaches.
Change the environment within which you and others interact (e.g., rotate meetings between collaborators' offices, or meet and work where the beneficiaries of your collaboration's activities live) to not only gain fresh perspectives and approaches but also, quite literally, experience the positions of others.
Work with people to construct small experiments and "try-outs" that test and explore new concepts, ideas and approaches.
(Introduce freshness to increase collaborative flexibility, increase inclusiveness, encourage curiosity, and challenge current perspectives and ways of doing things.)
Use others' words
Become familiar with the words your collaborators use to describe and express things. What words do they use to describe their key concepts and areas of expertise? What words do they use to describe the key concepts and areas of expertise they share with you? Try out their words; when talking with your collaborators, use their words.
(Use others' words to increase your understanding of others and encourage empathy.)
Reboot your language and then create a shared language
At the beginning of your relationship with collaborators, use everyday "day-to-day" language whilst communicating with them: reboot to the default language you all have in common.
Then create a shared language for ideas and concepts, etc., you have in common with your collaborators but for which you use different words: create a common language for things you have in common.
(Reboot your language to encourage conversation and increase mutual understanding. Create a shared language to not only encourage conversation and increase mutual understanding but also increase feelings of mutual connection and begin the process of creating a shared history of collaboration.)
Listen to and amplify ignored and quietly dissenting voices
Seek out and listen to the ignored and quietly dissenting voices that whisper between and around the attention grabbing and loudly unanimous voices. Listen for these whispers within the informal margins of your dealings with others. Amplify the ignored and quietly dissenting voices by identifying and demonstrating how their messages and insights will benefit the work you are doing with people.
(Listen to and amplify ignored and quietly dissenting voices to demonstrate respect for people, minimise assumptions about people, increase inclusiveness, encourage curiosity, and challenge accepted ways of thinking and doing.)
Explore what lies between, within, around, beneath and behind
Verbalise thoughts and intuitions that lie between, within, around and behind your explicit and fully formed ideas and opinions; encourage others to do the same. Identify what no one is talking about (e.g., the "elephant in the room" that no one wishes to tackle) and talk about it. Explore taken for granted but often powerful assumptions that lie beneath decisions and actions (e.g., assumptions about what is or is not the problem).
(Explore what lies between, within, around, beneath and behind to enrich conversation, increase sharing of opinions and ideas, etc., increase inclusion, challenge existing taken for granted assumptions and beliefs, increase mutual understanding, encourage curiosity, and make what was implicit explicit.)
Explore differences and allow discord the time and space to resolve
When disagreements, arguments and conflicts emerge, do not immediately seek to close them down or resolve them; allow them time and space to be expressed and explored. When someone disagrees, argues or comes into conflict with you, welcome his or her provocations and invest time and space in exploring them.
(Explore differences and allow discord the time and space to resolve to encourage dialogue, challenge current thinking and ways of doing things, encourage collaborative flexibility, build collaborative resilience, demonstrate respect for differing ideas and beliefs, enhance mutual understanding, and encourage implied and partially expressed thoughts and feelings to become clear and explicit.)
Share and explore mistakes and make mistakes make things better
Be honest about your mistakes; share and explore them with others. Encourage people to share and explore their mistakes with you and each other. Crucially, focus upon how lessons learnt from mistakes can help enhance processes and outcomes: make mistakes make things better.
(Share and explore mistakes and make mistakes make things better to increase openness and sharing, encourage mutual trust, and emphasise the interdependence between people: the fact that people need to work together to overcome each other's mistakes.)
Share your encores
When taking the lead role within a collaboration, ensure you share the spotlight with your collaborators. Make sure those who helped you are able to share the spotlight of your recognition. Focus especially upon those who usually play supportive parts in the background.
Offer your collaborators meaningful roles in follow-up and "spin-off" projects and events. When you are invited to make presentations about your achievements, ensure your partners are given the opportunity to speak about how they helped you. When you are asked to write about your achievements, do not only acknowledge the help you received but also include descriptions of how the skills and expertise of your collaborators were essential to success. When awards are given to you, find ways to ensure your helpers and supporters receive their share of the acclaim.
(Share your encores to increase your reputation for collaboration, increase inclusiveness, acknowledge the value of partners' contributions, reduce the negative effects of status and hierarchy, and increase the positive effects of equality and participation.)
Give others your ideas to test, adapt, own and name
When you have an idea give it freely to your collaborators. Encourage people to take it away to test within and adapt to their own contexts. As people test and adapt your idea, it will become a shared idea: an idea that is known and owned by many. Eventually, an idea that is owned by many will be named and renamed by many: people will christen it with the favour of their own languages and meanings. Welcome these new names and celebrate the sharing of what used to be your idea.
(Give others your ideas to test, adapt, own and name to gain a reputation for sharing and collaboration, acknowledge others' skills, and demonstrate trust in the integrity and motivations of your collaborators.)
Be curious about and enjoy the journey
Enjoy the journey you are taking with others. Be curious about the paths you follow and welcome and embrace the surprises they provide. If you take an apparent wrong turn, be curious about where it leads. Pause occasionally to take stock. Where are you in your collaboration's journey? Where have you been? Where could you go?
As you and others have travelled together, what memorable events have happened and what insights have you and others gained as a result? What has each person learnt about the other? What has each person learnt about their collaboration with others?
What has been most enjoyable about your journey with others? Why was this? What has been most disappointing? What can be learnt from this?
(Be curious about and enjoy the journey to enhance your understanding of those with whom you are travelling, encourage curiosity and conversation, increase the flexibility and resilience of collaborative relationships, and enrich your shared history of collaboration.)
Pass important things to others physically face-to-face in the same space
When passing important things to others, meet physically and pass the things face-to-face in the same space.
Knowledge, skills, feedback, praise, resources, authority, responsibility, accountability, leadership, ownership, insights, opinions: whatever they are, if they are important, pass them to others personally.
(Pass important things to others physically face-to-face in the same space to emphasise the value you place on both the individual and the thing you are passing to him/her, highlight the value you place on personal interaction, and create a tangible connection with another person that encourages mutual trust and respect.)
Share your enthusiasm
Share your enthusiasm for not only your collaboration's work but also your collaborative relationships. Champion the collaborative approach and the development of collaborative relationships through your words and actions; allow your personal beliefs and feelings about the importance of collaboration and collaborative relationships to colour and enrich your language and guide your actions and decisions.
(Share your enthusiasm to show people what motivates you personally as well as professionally, help make implicit feelings and values explicit, and encourage empathy and understanding.)
Tap into the power of others' enjoyment and enthusiasm
Tap into the power of others' enjoyment and enthusiasm by recognising and exploiting the relationship tipping point: the point at which personal and informal interactions begin to strengthen and gain energy and the spontaneity and closeness between individuals rapidly increases. For a description of the relationship tipping point and how to recognise and exploit it, click here.
(Tap into the power of others' enjoyment and enthusiasm to increase mutual understanding, encourage informality, reduce the negative effects of status and hierarchy, and increase the positive effects of equality and participation.)
Tap into the unusual
Search for and explore ideas and approaches from outside the mainstream. Open your mind to their possibilities and explore them with enthusiasm. Make yourself see the ideas and approaches from the perspectives of those who own and use them; tap into the enthusiasm others have for the ideas and approaches. Find ways to assimilate unusual ideas and approaches into the mainstream.
(Tap into the unusual to increase inclusion and participation, show respect and acknowledge value, encourage curiosity and challenge accepted ways of doing things, increase understanding and empathy, add to a shared history of collaboration, enhance reputations for collaboration, and reduce the negative effects of mainstream status.)
See what is in front of you
Enhance your ability to tap into the unusual by seeing what is in front of you rather than what you think is in front of you. Judge ideas rationally, based upon their merits. Do not allow your feelings and preconceptions about the person or organisation owning and/or presenting an idea to influence your judgement of an idea. Focus upon "here and now" reality rather than "wherevers and whenevers" of generalised assumption.
(See what is in front of you to not only enhance your ability to tap into the unusual but also increase inclusion and participation, challenge pre-conceptions and encourage curiosity, increase understanding and empathy, acknowledge value, and enhance your personal credit history of collaboration.)
Encourage people to listen to and speak with each other
Encourage people to find the guidance and answers they need from not only you but also each other; do not always take centre stage. Encourage people to get together and provide leadership and support for one another. Encourage people to learn from and with each other. Encourage people to take responsibility for their quality of ensemble: the quality of how they perform together.
(Encourage people to listen to and speak with each other to increase the sharing of knowledge, experiences and beliefs, etc., encourage informal interactions and conversations, promote face-to-face interactions, increase mutual respect and trust, enhance personal credit histories of collaboration and increase participation and inclusion.)
Plant seed ideas in different places and nudge along other people's seed ideas
Plant seed ideas (suggestions about what to find out about, who to talk to and work with, and what to do, etc.) and encourage their nurture and development.
Plant seed ideas in different places and with different people. Encourage discussion of seed ideas by seeking feedback about them. Where a seed idea is taking root, encourage its growth by suggesting people get together to explore how it could be developed and applied.
As well as planting and encouraging your own seed ideas, nudge along the seed ideas of others: if one partner expresses an interest in another partner and his/her expertise and ideas, nudge them together; if a partner asks why a person or organisation is not involved in the work of a collaboration, show interest in the query and (if appropriate) nudge him/her to make overtures to the person or organisation identified; if a partner shows enthusiasm for a specific approach, idea or process, again show interest and (if appropriate) nudge them to follow their enthusiasm, gain additional information and find ways to develop the approach, etc.
(Plant seed ideas in different places and nudge along other people's seed ideas to encourage dialogue and the sharing of ideas, encourage curiosity, and increase participation and involvement.)
Encourage and help people to be champions
Encourage and help people to find ways of championing the work of a collaboration.
Representing a collaboration within their own or others' organisations or at an event; making the case for a collaboration's aims and approach; being a real life example of the difference a collaboration can make to people's lives; championing a new idea or approach; championing the cause of a partner, stakeholder or beneficiary: use these and similar opportunities to encourage people to become "the face of the collaboration" (or the face of a specific aspect of the collaboration's activities).
(Encourage people to be champions so you share the spotlight, improve your credit history of collaboration, reduce the negative effects of status, increase inclusiveness, and acknowledge the value of people and their contributions.)
Be consistently open for business
Work at being open to people. Make sure people know they can approach you. Do not allow the demands of time and the habits of routine to narrow the avenues through which people can approach you.
Place "open for business" signs on the shop windows at the periphery of your collaboration's activities and welcome and usher in anyone who shows an interest, including the most casual of window shoppers.
Keep your internal mental camera rolling so you can notice and then catch up with people and ideas you could not immediately acknowledge and explore.
Keep your internal mental camera rolling so you can notice and then make the most of opportunities arising from encounters with "friendly strangers": hardly known but friendly people with whom you have effective but rare interactions.
(Be consistently open for business to increase inclusiveness, encourage conversation and face-to-face interactions, and show you have time and respect for people.)