Collaboration does not mean you have to be best friends

Like relationships, collaboration is hard work. If it wasn’t, it would happen more often. One of the push backs I sometimes receive when I say we need more collaboration is why should we when the other side does not do it? There is a short-sighted belief that one has to collaborate with only their best friends. The short answer is very little gets done when you do not involve all needed parties in the discussion.

Let me mention just three examples, two from America and one from Denmark.

After World War II, President Harry Truman appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to lead a team to help establish the United Nations. She was joined by some Republican elected officials, who were not huge fans of Ms. Roosevelt. After seeing her in action insisting that human rights had to be a key part of the mission of the new global group swaying opinion to her point of view, these Republicans said something interesting. They said we take back every bad thing we ever said about Eleanor Roosevelt.

After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin wanted to return home from Paris where he was quite successful in raising funding for the war effort from France. Instead, he was asked to lead a delegation of three to forge a peace agreement with England along with John Jay and John Adams. Per the Ken Burns documentary on Franklin, Adams did not care for Franklin especially his extracurricular activities, yet the men put their feelings aside and worked on what turned out to be the most one-sided peace agreement achieved to-date in favor of the former British colonies.

With Denmark largely below sea level, climate change has been considered with serious intent. Rising sea levels have always been a concern to this small country, but now the prognosis was alarming. The elected leaders knew they needed a long-term plan that would survive no matter which party was in power. They could ill-afford the flip-flopping of strategy every election cycle. So, collaboration across party lines was critical. And, they forged such a plan.

The Denmark example is illuminating. They responded to a “burning platform” issue. Yet, elected officials should not wait for the platform to burn. They should care less about binary win/ lose issues and work on solving problems. We need them to work together to get something done. And, we need to focus on issues of import not contrived ones that make the other side look bad. To be frank, I am extremely tired of this we/ they tribalism.

30 thoughts on “Collaboration does not mean you have to be best friends

    • Betsy, thanks. One thing we have forgotten is countries like to deal with a country who honors its agreements. Why would a country want to commit to us if we may change our mind every four years? In Denmark’s case, they have long had to deal with flooding, so they have gotten pretty good at it. Keith

  1. It’s about achieving a common goal that becomes the center of common interest. Friendship cannot be the common denominator but working together for the cause. Interestingly, this can even lead to friendships…

  2. ” …why should we when the other side does not do it?” is the attitude that will take us nowhere … at least nowhere good. Collaboration does not mean one must sacrifice their values, only that at some point an olive branch is extended, we listen to all opinions, then hammer out a solution that is the best of all possible solutions for the good of humankind! I like your three examples and I’m sure there are many more out there we could learn from. There are so many serious problems in the world today and we will not solve them if everybody stays in his own corner, unwilling to move toward a compromise, a solution that works for all. Good post, my friend.

  3. Collaboration requires a common goal – not necessarily a common path towards that goal, but a common goal. I think we are often stymied by not being able to even agree on a common goal. For example, if two sides don’t agree that a changing climate is: A) a problem, and B) one that we can address by our actions, then collaboration isn’t possible.

    • Janis, well said. Climate change is an issue where major funding of one party and not inconsequential funding of the other by the fossil fuel industry is predicated on keeping the status quo. It is frustrating that the problem remains less addressed than it should. Doing the right thing should not be this hard. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: There is a great book called “Tip and the Gipper” by Chris Matthews on the great relationship between Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (who Matthews worked for) and Republican President Ronald Reagan who played a movie role called “the Gipper.” They both loved their country and did not always agree, but they found ways to get stuff done.

    • Vic, many thanks for the reblog and the mention of business collaboration as well. In my consulting days and corporate career, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of collaboration. Keith

  5. One of he classic first steps in building hatred for an enemy is depersonalizing them. It’s a standard propaganda tactic, and completely contrary to maintaining a successful society. We see it in the partisan politics of the US and Europe, in prejudice against immigrants and the poor, and in the Russian PR campaign against Ukraine. The “them” of us versus them aren’t real people; they’re an imagined stereotype.

    Once you get to know your enemy, with rare exceptions, hatred is impossible and cooperation is quite possible. Arguably, Mrs. Roosevelt was a caricature for many before they got to see her in action. The caricature was a far cry from the intelligent lady with strong moral values and a willingness to act on those values. “Do something every day that scares you.”.

    That makes it more embarrassing to see members of Congress today reducing themselves to the level of one-dimensional caricatures. We’ve come a long way and not in a good direction.

    • Vic, well said. Ken Burns’ did an excellent documentary series on The Roosevelts. FDR asked Eleanor to be his legs and go places for him, as he knew she would tell him the truth about what was happening. Teddy asked reporters to go talk with his Department directors and told them to cooperate, as he knew he would learn more about what was going on. Teddy collaborated with reporters while FDR collaborated with his wife with whom he was estranged. Keith

  6. Note to Readers: Vic reminded of a business story of what people should not do. One of my clients was known for internal in-fighting, which is a horrible business practice to allow. I was asked by one department to look over an idea presented by another third party. I suggested they involve another department to make sure this department understood the financial aspects, advice which they chose not to follow. Someone in that department later told me it is a good idea, but we are not going to let it happen, since the sponsor of the idea did not ask us to look at it. So, they sabotaged the idea. All it would have taken is a few collaborative steps.

  7. Three Republicans, Senators Murkowski, Collins, and Romney deserve praise for voting their conscious rather than standing firm with the party line. I hope they won’t be vilified for recognition of the validity of KBJ as SCOTUS judge.

    I’ve just been introduced to a non-profit called Braver Angels which works to break down the barriers of communication and thought between red and blue. Don’t know a lot about the group yet, but I like what I see so far. We NEED two parties, two viable parties, working/collaborating to shape policy for our poor, divided, and declining country.

    • Linda, I agree, but I am sure they will be vilified which is unfortunate. Thanks for mentioning the group designed to break down barriers. I will look into them. Take care, Keith

  8. Collaboration is how anyone is able to reach major goals in life. Nothing is ever truly accomplished outside of yourself without seeking the support, help, or resources from another person. Being able to accept different perspectives is paramount to any success.

    • Great input. I heard a terrific line last night on the PBS series “Sandtiton,” that my wife and I like. I will likely mess it up, but I will attempt to quote it, “Asking for help is not failing, it is a step toward success.” Thanks, Keith

  9. A timely clarion call Keith.
    I have written this before but it bears repeating:
    WWII: The British Empire (still locked in some ways into The 19th Century). USA (Brash and confident coming out of the Depression) USSR (Insular, centralised state-run). Mutually suspicious of each other. Very rarely seeing genuinely eye-to-eye. Britain trying to be world-wide. USA essentially Pacific looking. USSR Strategy Eurocentric.
    Three more disparate governments / systems who on paper should never have combined. And yet they identified Nazi Germany as the main threat (Not that the USSR had much option) and worked to that end. Then turned full attention on Japan.
    The Axis: Germany and Japan were on ‘speaking terms’ but little physical co-operation. Germany and Axis allies in Europe, something of a one-way street with junior partners growing resentment of Germany’s high-handed methods.
    Who won? True, economic out-put and resources paid a great part, but without the co-operation WWII would not have ended the way it did.

      • One of Stalin’s attributes was his willingness through WWII to adapt (and claim the credit, of course).
        If it wasn’t working, ditch it.
        An interesting facet of Hitler vs Stalin is that whereas Hitler began to micro-manage and restrict his generals battlefield options, Stalin gradually ‘let go’ and listened to the more successful and battle-hardened ones. (After the War he was not so keen that some of them were getting more public adulation than he was…but that’s another story)

    • Cindy, sadly it is. With about 50% of marriages failing, it shows that relationships are hard work and require investment in each other. The same i s true with collaboration. Did you know that most mergers of companies fail to achieve the goals of the merger? The main reason is the relationship and social aspects of merging, not the processes. Keiith

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