Collaboration - distinct from - Cooperation
A Drama Class Essential
Collaboration has become a catch word for the most successful modern business practice and also championed as the most effective pedagogical strategy. If you have been involved in theatre or drama for any length of time you will already know the value of collaboration but in this blog I would like to focus on what I consider to be the difference between collaboration and cooperation (terms that often considered synonymous), and why it is important for students to understand the difference.
The perspective of a stage-manager
As a professional stage-manager I came to really appreciate working with people who have collaborative mindsets. Anyone who has worked in professional theatre knows the difficulties and challenges in working with the antithesis; that is selfish and self-centred individuals who only see and demand their own needs. Unfortunately the 'prima doña' mindset is rife in the theatre and there are those working in the field with little or no appreciation of how difficult a task it is to coordinate a full-scale theatre production. It requires refined social skills to navigate 'the minefield' and mediate the myriad of conflicts and conflicting needs within any production company to ensure that the show goes on, on schedule. It is no less crucial for a drama teacher to, not only understand and embrace the collaborative mindset themselves, but to engender the same in their students.
Although some individuals seem to have an innate predisposition to collaboration, most students need to be taught how to collaborate. It is an aspect of drama that deserves some in-depth analysis and specific strategies to bring about the right environment in the classroom.
Despite extensive exposure to the collaborative process, working in both professional and amateur theatre, it took an experience outside of the theatre - 'wearing one of my other career hats' - to fully comprehend one of the major benefits of full collaboration.
I was employed by a New Zealand education company, that had been contracted to provide training for ESL teachers and their future trainers in Doha, Qatar, in the then new, English curriculum standards. It was one of the toughest challenges of my career but I gained invaluable experience and insight.
How I Learned What is Distinctive About Collaboration
One of the challenges of working in the Middle East is that there is a different set of priorities and things happen within a different time-frame to counties in the West. Despite the fact that the contract had been tendered for well in advance of the schedule implementation date, no decision had been made until the last minute. The team I worked with we're recruited on short notice and faced the improbable task of:
a) becoming 'experts' in the New English Curriculum Standards and
b) preparing a program for Master Trainers (those who would replace us in the following year) and
c) preparing a program for entry level English teachers.
d) while keeping in mind that a Proficient Level program was to be devised later
e) at the same time collecting data and anecdotal information on the program, to be used on an ongoing basis, to report back to The Supreme Educational Council of Qatar
f) and in addition creating a program that brought the elements of current best practice in education from around the world but also being mindful of specific cultural and religious issues in regard to education in the Middle East
Only two weeks after arrival in Doha I was to present my first workshop to Master Trainers. These were hand-picked, highly experienced, professionals with an intimate knowledge of the local education system and the cultural and religious environment of the country and the region.
What followed therefore was a gruelling team process of devising, delivering, and monitoring the implementation of the 3 programs at the same time as maintaining a very high professional standard. Projects in the past in Qatar had been cancelled on short notice for failing to meet expectations and teams disbanded and sent home, so there was enormous pressure on every member of the team to deliver high quality workshops, on time. At any time monitors from the SEC could turn up unannounced to those workshops.
One of the complicating factors was that none of us had worked together before. Although we were educational professionals with considerable collective experience, we had come from very diverse institutions. I was the only Australian in the otherwise New Zealand team. I had always considered Australians and New Zealanders to be pretty much the same socially, culturally and educationally, until this experience. I soon discovered that there were subtle but very important differences between me and the rest of the team. The New Zealanders, despite individual experiences, shared a common NZ educational context, philosophy and language and brought that to bear in the collaborative process.
The 'Crunch Point' in our Demanding Process of Collaboration
The team initially entered into the collaborative process, with enthusiasm, dedication and good humour but it wasn't long before our differing perspectives on education and the best way to organise the programs brought us into conflict. There was a lot of initial group cooperation and yielding on non-essential aspects for the sake of meeting deadlines but when we started to wrestle with deeper issues it became harder to reach needed consensus. Tensions rose, tempers frayed and the inevitable factions started to emerge. The whole process looked like it would grind to a halt until one day we made an unexpected breakthrough. It only came, however, after the most heated, the most frustrating and most confrontational team meeting to date.
It's strange that I remember clearly the event but not the specific issues we were dealing with. After hours of argument we had reached a complete impasse. No one was willing to yield their precious educational positions but, as it was essential to come to a place of consensus on this occasion, we were all committed to some sort of breakthrough. Then something happened that no one foresaw. Suddenly the conflict was over; not because anyone finally accepted another point of view and yielded to the others but because we all saw something completely new. A resolution came that had not been conceived of before and in the process we not only came to a place of agreement but a fundamental shift occurred that produced a fresh a new solution. This is the essence of collaboration.
Without diminishing the importance of cooperation, here is what I believe to be distinctive about collaboration:
Collaboration respects the rights of each member to hold, articulate and advocate views that may conflict with the majority or widely accepted viewpoint.
Collaboration does not require yielding to another point of view in order to reach consensus.
Collaboration involves active and passionate involvement in the creative decision-making process, not passive acceptance of the majority view.
Collaboration seeks the best outcome in any situation, not the easiest path to resolution.
Collaboration requires a commitment to final resolution not a 'put-up and shut-up' martyr mentality.
I know it's a bit cliched, and I'm open to alternative suggestion, but below is an acronym, that I will elaborate on afterwards, that highlights the key aspects of the collaborative process .
How to COLLABORATE
Open your mind
Lead or follow when needed
Acknowledge the gifts of others
Be in the present
Observe objectively and act accordingly
Accept responsibility for group success
Trust the creative process
Enthusiasm and energy are infectious