Collaboration is often seen as a result of more conscious leadership and culture. With greater collaboration, organizations can leverage collective strengths, achieve greater results and grow with more resilience.

My question is this: Are human beings naturally collaborative or is collaboration something that requires training, development and reinforcement?

On one hand, it seems that we are each governed by our individual needs for survival and success. Every day we are faced with constant opportunities to choose – do we work for the whole or for our own self-interest?

We have examples even driving to work: When we see that the lanes will narrow, do we race ahead to jump in front of the queue? Or take our turn to blend in early and endure a few extra minutes of waiting?

Collaboration requires a healthy tension between self-interest and the greater good. Both are required. I do need to survive and be successful – and the team or organizational needs to succeed as well. These two “poles” are interdependent.

What is our natural state?

I say we are naturally collaborative. Here’s my evidence: I watch my grandchildren. Early on, children are totally dependent on those around them for everything. As they develop their own competency – feeding themselves, walking, mastering language – they begin to assert more independence, while remaining open to help and challenge. They don’t see falling down as a problem. At some point, though, their identities begin to form, creating a sense that “I can do it” or – perhaps more accurately – “I should be able to do it”. The old “looking good” attitude makes the scene.

We each develop attitudes early in life that begin to erode our natural openness to collaboration.

“I’m smart.” “I’ll show them.” “They’ll think I’m stupid.”

These are not bad attitudes, but they inhibit our openness to asking for or offering help and admitting mistakes or acknowledging weaknesses. When are we naturally collaborative?

When we feel safe and free to be ourselves. When our environment feels threatening, we focus on self-preservation. When we feel cared for, we take the risk of counting on others.

Hence the importance of conscious leadership and culture – to create an environment that will help us each feel free to be ourselves, to focus on the greater good and to contribute from our strengths.

What do you think?

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