One of the traits women are most credited with is improving collaboration. We get more people to open up and participate in conversations and problem solving. The result is a more complete solution to a problem.
Sounds great – in theory!
The issue many women face is that collaboration isn’t valued. Collaboration goes against the company’s driving, hard charging, make it happen culture – it is sissy stuff. In these environments the merit of an idea is based upon how hard the promoter is willing to fight for and drive his solution through. If you are not willing to fight hard for your idea, then it couldn’t have been a very good one.
Even in an environment where men are less contentious, they may already have their minds made up as to who they aren’t going to listen to, whose ideas are going to be shot down even before they are voiced. They know who is going to be shut down and shut out of all discussion. They are very good at enforcing the shut out.
For women getting their ideas heard in these environments is hard enough, let alone getting men to listen to each other and discuss all ideas.
So what’s a woman to do – how can she make a room full of men collaborate?
One method I heard a woman use was to bring a small baseball bat into the meeting. When the men got out of control, she slammed it down on the solid oak conference table. That got every man in the room to shut up…and all of us in the surrounding offices too!! Highly effective for that meeting (and all future meetings) but probably not a solution most women would feel comfortable with.
A less dramatic solution is to invite one of the “admin ladies” to the meeting. An “admin lady” is a woman who is in a traditionally female job but has a tremendous amount of unofficial power and she uses it. She is no shrinking violet. She knows everything that really goes on and where the bodies are buried. She has cleaned up after most of the men in the office and they owe her. She has clout.
Sit with her in the meeting and start discussing the ideas amongst the two of you. A lot of times the men will not consider how decisions affect the admin staff. Your admin lady will gladly shoot down any idea that makes unnecessary work for herself or the rest of the admin staff. To start collaboration use her to say “no” to extra admin work and you guide the discussion towards different solutions.
An extra benefit is that you two are now a powerful force to be reckoned with – a strong alliance!
Remember that today’s problem comes from yesterday’s solution – a poor solution will only create a ripple effect of new problems. So, think in terms of your processes. Look at problems horizontally across the company and include other departments, invite their representatives so they can defend their departments against preventable extra work. They will welcome the opportunity. They will owe you.
A man who is trying to drive his solution is thinking vertically through his sphere of influence – the best way to counter him is to go horizontally and outside his sphere of influence. Having allies and alliances is not a sign of weakness – its real collaboration.
One other thing you must do – if you initiate collaboration, you need to lead the follow through and the accountability. Take charge of the entire effort. Work horizontally, following up with the other departments, they are your allies. If you back off on the follow up, then the men will fall back to doing what they want and what works best for them.
Leading collaboration is a nice concept that will put you in a pretty little box.
Following through on your collaboration will get you promoted.
Empowered women lead in the execution of their collaborative efforts and reap the rewards.