Has the word collaboration lost its meaning? What does true collaboration look like and how could we better express it in a way that leads to real action?

At Pause 2020, Barbara Soalheiro, onetime editor of Colors magazine and founder of the innovative Mesa team-based work system, provoked us with a claim that the word ‘collaboration’ is unnecessary and fetishized. But if we are to avoid using the term, how do we set out to work with teams? She gives us some further provocations, and not without evidence. The Mesa system has been used to considerable acclaim by Coke, Adidas, Nestlé and Google.

Time and timing is critical. Don’t ask people to debate. It’s the wrong mindset. Instead, give them specific tasks and responsibilities. Ask them to make something.

Don’t change behaviour by changing the rules: ‘People hate rules, and straightaway will look for ways to break them’. Instead, create rituals, sets of shared routine behaviours which are transparently meaningful.

Clients are not ‘clients’. They are ‘problem owners’.

Who’s at the table is critical. In the spirit of working ‘with’, not ‘for’ problem-owners, the presence of leaders and decision makers is important. Mesa processes aim at very concrete actions to remedy complex problems, and executive presence engages action at the top, addressing needs identified on the ground. It can be a false economy to ‘save executive time’ by delegating change processes to middle ranks, who may not have the influence to enact them.

The era of outsourcing a problem is over. You can’t brief anyone on everything you know (as the ‘problem owner’). External consultants may have short-term uses, but a better investment is to build on-board skills and working culture. Problem solving also becomes training in problem solving.

Vitality Village is about bringing people with a shared vision together to work together to solve complex problems. And with our first strategic workshop kicking off this Friday (12/3/20) we will need to be thinking about all of this and more so that we can nurture a culture of solving problems, of innovation from within and of mindfulness. We can’t wait to share more!

Credit: Michael Doneman