This rule could have been named, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” This expression and the title for this column both share my affinity that results are almost always better when a group works together in strong collaborative fashion. Such efforts usually lead to far better results than an individual working alone.
As a society, we have created the illusion that many of the greatest thinkers and scientists in our history did their work in isolation. Almost always, this story line is untrue. The scientists typically built on the previous work of other scientists and they worked in teams through processes full of trial and error to arrive at conclusions that were continued improvements of lines of thought and reason that had been previously established.
Part of the reason for great success when working collaboratively is that it allows for analysis from different perspectives. When looking for solutions to challenges, it is easy for an individual to get “locked in” to a specific lane of thinking, or in other words only see the challenge through a specific paradigm. Having others involved in the process allows for analysis from a variety of perspectives which is often to the key to unlocking the path to a successful outcome.
Another key element of working collaboratively is that it allows for much in the way of critical feedback. From my perspective, critical feedback is an essential part of high quality decision-making. When working collaboratively it is incredibly important to develop trust and to make sure all members of the team are not only invited to give critical feedback, but are encouraged, or even required to give such feedback.
One of my favorite books of all time, “Groupthink” by Irving Janis, illustrates the failures of group decision-making when those in the room don’t have the freedom to challenge the ideas of everyone in the room, especially those with formal leadership roles and positional power. As leaders, we have to develop the kind of teams where great ideas can come from anyone on the team. We also need to welcome and appreciate those who are willing to share perspectives that are different from the mainstream of the group.
The ideas I’ve shared in the previous paragraphs may sound straightforward, and may even sound simple. In reality, to do them well takes a great deal of hard work applied consistently over time to develop strong collaborative teams that become skilled in decision-making. The following African proverb captures the sentiment of this reality very well, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Mike Redmond is the superintendent of Shakopee Public Schools and author of Redmond’s Rules. Each blog post provides deeper meaning and more clarity to each of the 15 rules that make up Redmond’s Rules. To read recent posts, visit shakopee.k12.mn.us/Page/9725.