In this episode, Jim Tamm will share some essential skills for effective collaboration and practical tools designed to help you manage your own defensiveness, build trust, reduce conflict, and create a more collaborative working environment.

Jim Tamm

Jim Tamm

Radical Collaboration

Jim Tamm is an author and former Senior Administrative Law Judge where he had jurisdiction over public sector disputes in the workplace. He was also a member of a collaboration special task force to design and teach collaboration skills to highly conflicted public sector organizations.  Jim gave the closing keynote at Agile 2015 with a presentation entitled “Want Better Collaboration? Don’t be so Defensive!”.

After listening to this episode, you'll understand:

  • The importance of good collaboration
  • Five key skills to promote better collaboration
  • Why being defensive reduces your ability to collaborate
  • How to lower your defensiveness
  • How to deal with others who won’t collaborate

Show Notes

The environment you create has a great impact on your ability to collaborate. According to research by Kotter & Heskett, there is a real and measurable difference between collaborative and adversarial workplaces.

In collaborative workplaces:

  • Net income improved 755%
  • Stock price grew 826%
  • Revenue increased 516%
  • Workforce expanded 246%


What is collaboration?
Collaboration is a level of cooperation and active collaboration that goes beyond simply working together. We want to get individuals and teams to be proactive in working together effectively with other counterparts and looking out for the interests of all parties involved, focusing on mutual gains.


Where do we start?
Start by realizing that collaboration is critical to success. There’s no way that companies can compete externally if they can’t collaborate internally. There are some specific skills needed if you want to build a more collaborative working environment or just get better at individual collaboration.


Red Zone vs. Green Zone
Green Zone (collaborative mindset) environments are high trust and low blame, allowing for greater collaboration. These environments allow for mutual support, honesty, openness, and appropriate risk taking. People in the Green Zone are internally motivated and find work more pleasurable as a result.

In red zone, if you try something new and it fails, someone is blamed. In the green zone, if you try something new and it fails, the conversation revolves around what was learned.  Red Zone (combative mindset) environments are those with low trust and high blame. They are characterized by risk avoidance, cynicism, suspicion, and people are externally motivated.

Beware: The shift from Green to Red can happen fast!


The Path to Better Collaboration
There are five key skills needed to create better collaboration.

  1. Collaborative Intention – Be able to stay focused on mutual gains when you hit a rough patch. When someone makes a mistake, do you get curious or get furious?
  2. Truthfulness – Create an environment where it’s safe for people to speak the truth. You can’t solve problems if people aren’t able to raise difficult issues and have truthful conversations.
  3. Self-Accountability – What choices are you making on a regular basis? Get people to understand the choices they have and empower them to make the right choices. They must then take responsibility for the resulting outcomes.
  4. Self-Awareness – Become more aware of your own defensiveness. When people feel threatened, they often become defensive, their IQ drops 20 points, and they get stupid (due to the fight or flight response). They can’t solve problems in this state and it invites others to become defensive. The ability to reduce your defensiveness has a positive impact on collaboration.
  5. Negotiating and Problem Solving – Being able to work your way through the conflicts that are inevitable in most working relationships. This allows you to resolve the conflict in a way that supports the relationship instead of undermining it.

These skills can all be learned, practiced, and improved.


Don’t be so defensive
Our own reaction of defensiveness leads to lower collaboration. Defensiveness does not protect us from other people, it defends us from fears we don’t want to feel. The key is to understand and be aware of your own signs of defensiveness and take action. Lower your own defensiveness to increase your collaboration and ability to solve problems.

How do we know if we’re getting defensive? When we get defensive, it’s often because we feel that someone has done something to us and we need to defend ourselves from that person. In reality, when we get defensive, it’s because there’s some fear inside us that we don’t want to feel. Common fears include fears about our significance, competence, and our likability. Most of us aren’t aware of this fear until it’s too late and we’ve become defensive.

To help keep this from happening to you, pay attention to your outward behavior. The outward signs of defensiveness are usually easier to spot at an earlier point and can serve as an early warning system. Learning the behaviors you exhibit when you’re becoming defensive and be aware when those behaviors are present. Once you notice that you are behaving defensively, you can take action to move back into the Green Zone.

The path to avoiding defensiveness is:

  1. Notice when you’re becoming defensive
  2. Acknowledge that you are getting defensive
  3. Take action to move back into the Green Zone

Actions may include slowing down, make your self-talk a little less toxic, or whatever action is appropriate for your own defensive behaviors.


What if others people are defensive?

What can we do if we’re in the Green Zone but others are in the Red Zone?

  • First, it’s not effective to tell the other person that they’re getting defensive. That doesn’t work.
  • Make sure that you stay in the Green Zone. Don’t let others push your buttons and draw you into the Red Zone.
  • Put more energy into listening. People often become defensive when they feel that they’re not being heard. Use your active listening skills.
  • Use interest based negotiation. Focus the conversation on what all of the interests are of all involved parties.

Listening is one of the best relationship tools we have. We all think we do it well and most of us are terrible at it. Basic listening skills are great for improving the effectiveness of the team.

Better collaboration leads to better engagement and a higher quality end result.  Remember that collaboration starts with you. Be aware of when you’re drifting into the red zone and use some of the approaches mentioned in this episode to get back in the green zone.  Lowering your own defensiveness allows you to increase your collaboration and ability to solve problems.



Your Homework

Focus on better understanding your own defensiveness.  Identify your own signs of defensiveness and start looking out for those signs.  By creating this awareness, you can take action to shift back to the green zone and improve collaboration.

What’s your take?

Would you say most of your interactions are Red Zone or Green Zone?  Do you have any tips for improving collaboration? Please share your experience and comments in the section below.


Links mentioned in this episode:

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