How to Collaborate Effectively
Using consultation to address complex issues
The coronavirus pandemic is showing us the best and the worst of who we are as a global human society. It reminds me of the old Native American story of the grandfather who tells his grandson of the two wolves that are always fighting, always trying to overpower one another. One wolf is darkness — greed, ego, pride and conquest. The other wolf is light — kindness, generosity, joy and hope. These two wolves are constantly fighting within us. The little boy thinks for a moment and then asks, “Which one will win?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”
The world needs more ways to feed the light wolf and consultation is one such tool. It’s a form of group decision making that is based on seeking truth, understanding an issue from all sides and charting a wise course of action together. In this world of complex systems and even more complex global challenges, we need a way to bring diverse viewpoints together so we can accurately see a path forward and work together to build a positive future for ourselves.
Consultation is based on a set of fundamental principles and involves a simple process that allows a group to gather all the views on an issue and make a sound decision.
We are one people — The foundation of consultation is unity; it is based on the understanding that all of us humans are members of one human race, one human family. We are like the cells of the human body — we are both individual and part of an organic whole. Blood cells, bone cells, muscle cells and nerve cells are all very different, yet they both contribute to and benefit from being part of the body. Indeed, a single cell cannot survive outside the body. At the same time, the body operates as one organism and is only healthy when all the cells work together. The same is true with human beings. We are members of one organic whole. The better we understand this, the more effectively we are able to collaborate.
Harmony and Inspiration — We each come into a group with different strengths and limitations. The more we see each other as valuable contributors and champions of truth, the more effective our collaboration becomes. We then become like “waves of one sea and drops of one river.” It’s also important to look beyond ourselves to that which inspires and draws us together, whether you call it Spirit, Source, the Universe, God or simply the life force that animates all things. If we are all pointing at the sun, even though we are standing in different spots, we are all pointing in the same direction. As we move closer to the sun, we move closer together.
Inner Work — The curious thing about working in groups is that, to be effective, you also have to work on yourself. Consultation is no different. There are certain qualities that are conducive to group work: patience, humility, service, detachment, purity of motive, radiance of spirit and attraction to the divine within ourselves and within all beings. By developing these qualities within ourselves, we also create an environment in the group that encourages these qualities. It becomes a virtuous cycle.
The process of consultation is designed to allow a group to gain a full understanding of an issue in order to make a wise decision about it and carry it into action.
- Express Your View — We each bring different perspectives to the table. Some of us look at the big picture, others focus on the details. Some of us are analytically-minded, others have a more spiritual inclination. All of these views are important and necessary for understanding the issue at hand. So it’s important to express your view fully. It’s equally important to listen carefully to each view and not get offended if someone offers an opposing perspective. All this input is vital to understanding the issue fully.
- Let Go — Once you have expressed your view, you have to let go of it. It’s not yours anymore; it belongs to the group. It’s like playing with Legos®. We all come to the table with a bunch of bricks. If we hang onto our pieces, we end up with a jumbled pile of building blocks. But if we offer our bricks to the group and let go of them, we can build something amazing together — a skyscraper, a city, a spaceship.
- Seek Truth — The purpose of consultation is to gain a full understanding of an issue. We do that by looking at it from all sides and all angles. Together, those different views get us closer to the truth of the issue. Truth is like light. Consultation is like shining different colored lights in one spot: green, blue, yellow, red. The more beams of light we shine on the spot, the closer we get to white light; the closer we get to truth.
- Support the Decision — Once the group has sorted through all the perspectives on the issue, it comes to a conclusion and decides on a course of action. At this point, it is essential for everyone in the group to support the decision. Even if you disagree with the decision, it’s important to support it. If there is dissension and disunity, the truth will not come to light and the path forward will not be clear. But if the group is unified and the decision is wrong, it will quickly become apparent and the group can make a new decision.
So if you are looking for a way to improve your group’s collaboration skills, consultation is a valuable tool. To learn more, check out these resources:
- Collaboration through Consultation: A Powerful Tool for Building Community, available on Bookshop.org and Amazon.
- Consultation Toolkit — a free, downloadable kit that includes handouts and slides you can use to explain these concepts to your team.
Photo by Zainul Yasni on Unsplash