Without empathy there is no collaboration

The other week I was asked to talk about collaboration at a company with a group of architects. They were trying to cross the boundaries of their siloâ’ed departments more often in an attempt to become more innovative. Theyâ’d tried many things but none of them really stuck.

One of the reasons for this, as my friend Maria so nicely explained to me before, is because (company) culture is a complex (and very resilient) ecosystem. Just like in nature those resilient systems can only be changed by a ‘comet-strikes-earth⒠approach (but that will leave a lot of destruction in the wake of the trail) or by turning a lot of little changes into an evolutionary change (that way you can actually direct or lead the change). So what I suggested the company to do, is to deliberately design for small interventions of collaboration and I gave them a recipe on how to do this.

Slowing down to build relationships so you can speed up on innovation

The one most crucial first ingredient of that recipe is ‘empathyâ’: connect with your collaborators on an emotional and personal level first. So very often people forget to do this. We all run into meetings or gatherings, sit down and get things going. But when you do that, you have no idea ‘where people are coming fromâ’. Whatâ’s on their minds, whatâ’s in their heart, are they really present in this moment of collaboration or ‘is their head somewhere elseâ’? And even: who are they?

In my work I always take time for this ‘empathy⒠phase. For instance, with this company I asked them all to share a personal experience of moment when they collaborated best. It sets the tone for the rest of the meeting, it builds personal relationships and it increases the chance of being better collaborators. More and more I take this approach of really ‘checking in with the people around me⒠to my personal life as well and I have turned it into a version of what Morris Pickens taught me as ‘your locker room⒠moment. Thanks for that Mo!