Collaborating = Fighting (That’s Fine)

Collaboration means sometimes getting stepped on. The more collaborators there are, the bigger the crowd of feet. Getting stepped on is the worst.

She changed the program and didn’t tell you.

He rearranged the space without asking.

They overlooked you in the decisions about set up.

Two things feel important when collaborators step on you, and those are to affirm the value of the work they are trying to do while also asserting the importance of your project. Because collaborations are often at the organizational level, team members pursuing the same goals work on separate projects and call upon the same resources, which is an unavoidable conflict and a sign of organizational vitality (would we rather nobody needed the space?). Even though you are exceedingly considerate, even though you submit room requests on time, things break inexplicably against the priorities of your project.

Take a breath. Prize one-on-one conversations in the service of understanding the values behind the decision, and affirm those values. Then fight like Hell for your project.

Fight fair, of course. Don’t cast aspersions on peoples’ commitment and convictions; don’t yell; don’t trash talk. But make the case.

Richard Schiff used to fight over the script with Tommy Schlamme on the set of The West Wing (start at the 14 minute mark). He started to feel bad about causing conflict, so he quit fighting. One day, Schlamme came to him and pleaded with him to get back in the ring. “I miss our fights,” he told Schiff. “I learn more about what we do and what we’re doing by you challenging me. If you stop, I’m not going to be as good.”

By fighting for your project with your collaborators, you can facilitate learning in the organization. Nobody is served by you rolling over.