Adapted from Tamm and Luyett (2019)
The Red Zone is least conducive while the Green Zone is the most conducive to collaboration with the Pink Zone somewhere in the middle. How does an environment become red and how can it transition to green? In his Ted X Talk
one of the founders of the movement and co-authors of the book, former judge Jim Tamm argues that is the level of defensiveness in people and organizations. He explains that: You cannot collaborate externally if you cannot coordinate internally . . . There is nothing that will help you become more successful at resolving conflict and building collaboration more than better managing your own defensiveness . . . When we get defensive, we are not defending ourselves from another person but from feelings inside of us that we don’t want to feel (Tamm, 2015).
Tamm elaborates on what lies beneath that fear, three “big fears” that come up repeatedly for most humans: fears about our own significance, our competence and our likability. The problem is that most of us are not “in tune” with these fears, Tamm notes. But if we start paying attention to the outside signs of defensiveness we can develop “early warning systems” to alert us that we are about to respond in a way that might not be helpful or conducive to collaboration
. Once you can feel yourself getting defensive you can take action to address it. And what might that look like? Well, Tamm suggests that disarming our defences is a four-step process: Step 1: Acknowledge that you are getting defensive;
Step 2: Do whatever you can do to slow down your physiology (take a walk, break deeply and so on);
Step 3: Pay attention to your self-talk and if it’s negative try to change it to positive self-talk;
and Step 4: Create an action step directly related to your sign of defensiveness (which might be stepping away from the situation or bringing levity to the moment).
I found Tamm’s talk illuminating and hope you will take time to watch it. I started watching it feeling quite full of myself if I’m completely honest; firm and resolute in the knowledge that I didn’t allow myself to get swept away by defensiveness. That came screeching to a halt very early on when I realized that I often get defensive often; really often and that those three big fears both plague and drive me every day.
Luckily because I’ve been practicing meditation and mindfulness for a long time not all of those fears translate into reactions, but those reactions still happen more often than I’d like and in particular in the lead up to the COP when I was dealing with a number of challenges in addition to a heavy workload. One such reaction has had cascading impacts which I am still dealing with. I deeply regret reacting in that moment and lament that if only I had taken a few moments to observe my body and disarm my defences in that one moment it all could have been avoided.
In just a fraction of a second between a trigger and a reaction we have an opportunity to follow our defensiveness with a reaction and go low or to take a moment and go high
, a term made famous by Michelle Obama. During the COP on my many adventures on Twitter I came across an article
in Time which is an excerpt of a new book by Obama: The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.
Of what it means to go high she writes: For me, going high usually involves taking a pause before I react. It is a form of self-control, a line laid between our best and worst impulses. Going high is about resisting the temptation to participate in shallow fury and corrosive contempt and instead figuring out how to respond with a clear voice to whatever is shallow and corrosive around you. It’s what happens when you take a reaction and mature it into a response (Obama, 2022).
This really struck me and I’ve been making a concerted effort to go high ever since; to create that space that allows for a thoughtful response rather than a heated reaction. That said, it’s also important to be gentle with ourselves
. There is a parable in Buddhism about the second arrow. In this article
on grappling with uncertainty written at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yana Barysheva describes: The first arrow hurts, the second one hurts more. The first arrow is an undesired event — we can’t control it and it hurts when it happens. The second arrow is our reaction, where we double down on our suffering by focusing on it (Barysheva, 2020).
I know better than to compare my insides to other people’s outsides, but I didn’t realize the extent to which all humans (except a very few enlightened folks but I would imagine even they have their moments) are plagued by these three big fears until I watched Tamm’s talk. Perhaps we need to be more vulnerable and open about how those fears inform our day to day – that might help us disarm our collective defenses too. I’m more equipped to deal with those moments when I might be prone to react and get defensive now I have developed my own early warning system. I’ll let you know how my own journey goes but in the meantime continuing on my exploration of radical collaboration.The four imperatives of radical collaboration
My next stop was another website featuring a blog post called The Four Imperatives of Radical Collaboration
by Matt K. Parker which is an excerpt of his book: A Radical Enterprise: Pioneering the Future of High-Performing Organizations
. In the blog Parker writes that radical collaboration is on the verge of disrupting the dominator hierarchy which he describes as when: people are ranked and ordered, while power and resources are distributed unequally and concentrated at the top. Through a system of domination and coercion, dominator hierarchies structurally elevate the judgements of the dominators—e.g., the bosses, managers, directors, “leaders,” etc.—while structurally depriving the dominated of security, autonomy, fairness, esteem, trust, and belongingness (Parker, 2022).
Conversely, radical collaboration builds on the principle of linking and alignment rather than ranking and as such organization
s (or movements or initiatives) tend to support networks of dynamic, self-managing teams which “ground themselves in partnership and equality
”. These teams assume a fluid approach to leadership which is grounded in the context and supported by trust. As such radical collaboration: leverages the passions, interests, and intrinsic motivations of the participants while grounding collaboration in the freely made commitments between peers (Ibid).
Parker writes that, almost without exception, organizations that radically collaborate are successful
. In the corporate world they achieve higher growth and returns, larger shares of the market and greater customer satisfaction than those who built on a dominant hierarchy: By unburdening themselves of inertial bureaucracies and by supercharging innovation through high levels of trust and autonomy, they are rapidly disrupting practically every industry around the globe (Ibid).
How do they do this? According to Parker it’s through four conceptual imperatives which are highly interwoven and interdependent:
1. Team autonomy
: Radical collaborators decide how they work and what they do both as individuals and as a collective. This promotes both an outcome team paradigm and human-centered design. That is, radical collaborators focus on adding value and not on working for, but rather with, end users.
2. Managerial devolution
: Radical collaborations are sustained through the decentralization of power through self-managing teams – or dynamic “heterarchy” (the opposite of hierarchy). These teams underscored with the principles of equity and partnership and grounded in leadership that is contextual.
3. Deficiency gratification:
Radical collaborations fulfill our higher-level human needs such as esteem, security, trust, fairness and belonging through practices like peer pods (the blog doesn’t explain what these are but they sound cool) and check-ins between and among team members. This contributes to a foundation of collective trust which increases the efficacy and efficiency of the radical collaboration.
4. Candid vulnerability:
Radical collaborations function with openness and transparency. They share their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and assumptions with one another and make their thought processes open to examination and critique and even invalidation which can be difficult. However, this feeds a growth mindset and a culture of learning and “collaborative innovation”. This allows people to separate their ideas from their egos and enables ideas to evolve.
You can find another blog
written by Parker on the website of the Enterprisers Project
which I also recommend reading. There is a lot in Parker’s work which is relevant to our work on Loss and Damage and in particular the work we do under the Loss and Damage Collaboration. However, I would turn the framework upside down to start with candid vulnerability, openness and transparency as a community which will allow us to transition into a more inclusive discussion and collaborative working modalities. I hope we can explore integrating this model into the way we work in the new year and look forward to further discussions on how we can do more, go further and faster, together. But in the meantime there is one more stop on my journey to understand radical collaboration that I want to share.
Bringing fields of studies together to examine global challenges from different angles
As a researcher I found my next stop on my journey to understand radical collaboration particularly interesting. I found a page titled just Radical Collaboration on Cornell University’s website which outlines its approach to radical collaboration as part of a broader effort to better understand and address global challenges by bringing researchers from a diverse range of fields of study together. Recently Global Cornell
hosted a two day discussion entitled: Global Grand Challenges Symposium: Frontiers and the Future
. The discussion brought together researchers, academics and students from across disciplines to discuss the next Global Grand Challenge to be tackled. The idea that drives this work is that global challenges are interconnected and require all hands on deck
(my words not theirs) across disciplines and fields of study to understand and address. This is something we need to do more of in our work on Loss and Damage and in particular our research on Loss and Damage. This builds on work on the importance of cognitive (and neurological) diversity and is aligned with what I found in my Google scholar search.
What does this mean for us as a community?
There is a lot that we are doing right as a community. We have many platforms to coordinate and collaborate and open lines of communication; we just need to make use of them more strategically to take the outcome of COP 27 forward. That will likely require us to be more aware of our institutional and individual egos and to disarm them, or at the very least, reduce their influences to allow us to become less defensive. We all have our own messaging and our own milestones and performance indicators we need to hit. And we all like a good dopamine hit. I get it, I do. But our work is bigger than our individual and collective egos and it’s bigger than us
. And we know that we can achieve so much more together. At the end of the day change is an inside job and we all need to do the work on the inside to do more together on the outside.
Anyone who has ever written a paper knows that the first step is to do a review of the literature to understand what’s already out there. For PhD students this process consumes the first year of study if not (much) longer and is often referred to as “immersing yourself in the literature”. Even before you begin the process of doing a PhD you must first make a strong case for how your proposed thesis will “contribute to the literature” and this also forms a significant part of the thesis itself. You must answer critical questions such as: Why is this research significant? How does it build on what has come before and what does it tell us about the world? The aim is to build on what is already and fill gaps. As Isaac Newton famous quote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
This is basic and yet so many of us are not doing this well enough. A big part of that is due to constraints in both funding and time which don’t allow us to explore what’s out there as much as we should. It used to be that there was very little literature on Loss and Damage and not much to stand on but that has changed dramatically. We all need to do our due diligence before we embark on a new project and funders need to ensure that the work they fund is not already being done. Resources are limited and we need to make better use of them
. Under the Collaboration we are currently undertaking a mapping of the landscape of work on Loss and Damage which we will make available very soon. But we don’t need to wait for that to become more radical collaborators.
I made a lot of mistakes in 2022 and I’ll make more in 2023 and so will we as a community. Making mistakes is part of life; it is in learning lessons from our mistakes and building on them that we grow and evolve as both humans and as a collective of people driving change in the world
. The most profound lesson of last year for me is that we can do a lot more together than apart and to do that we need to set aside our institutional and individual egos. I commit to doing my best on both those fronts. I am going to focus my efforts on radical collaboration this year and supporting the L&DC. I am going to work on cultivating my early warning system to reduce my defensiveness as an individual to ensure that the L&DC is a Green Zone that supports radical collaboration. I will also be supporting the further devolution of the L&DC and am committed to ensuring that our Collaboration meets the high-level basic needs of each and every member and touches everyone that engages with our work and that allows us to be candidly vulnerable with one another. I will leave you with a quote from one of Seth Godin’s recent blog posts
”: Which way to head?
We live in a world characterized by mistrust, ill health, economic uncertainty, inflicted racial trauma, generational shift and the existential crisis caused by carbon. Not to mention the stress and dissolution of traditional pillars like organized education, office space and live gatherings.
And we live in a world with breathtaking medical technology, artificial intelligence, widespread and rapid cultural coordination, efficient farming, a move away from greed and the beginning of green tech. As well as self-driven learning, diverse cultural projects and the long tail.
Now more than ever, there’s room for leaders. Go first. (Godin, 2022).
Let’s go first, friends and let’s go together
. Because there is no other way to achieve our collective goal of mobilizing trillions to address loss and damage and making sure it gets to those on the frontlines of climate change in vulnerable developing countries through the newly established Loss and Damage fund. Research backs this up again and again. And the risks of not capitalizing this on the opportunities provided in the outcome of COP 27 are too great and ultimately those on the frontlines pay for our missteps. I look forward to working with many of you and invite those of you interested in our work to get in touch with us. Until the next time stay well, have a lovely winter holiday for those taking one and happy new year!
Barysheva, Y. (2020). Put the Second Arrow Down: Making the Best of Uncertainty. Originate
[online] Available at: https://www.originate.com/thinking/put-the-second-arrow-down-making-the-best-of-uncertainty
Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
. London: Penguin Random House UK.
Coveney, N. (2017). How to Harness the Power of Collaboration Forbes
(29 November, 2017) [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/201
Godin, S. (2022). The Crossroads. Seth’s Blog [online] Available at: https://seths.blog/2022/07/the-crossroads/
Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
. London: Little, Brown Book Group.
Obama, M. (2022). Michelle Obama: Yes, We Still Need to ‘Go High'' When Everything is Terrible. Time
[online] Available at: https://time.com/6233764/michelle-obama-go-high-2022/
Parker, M.P. (2022). The Four Imperatives of Radical Collaboration. IT Revolution
[online] Available at: https://itrevolution.com/articles/four-imperatives-of-radical-collaboration/
Tamm, J.W. and R.J. Luyett (2019). Radical Collaboration: Five Essential Skills to Overcome Defensiveness and Build Successful Relationships
. New York: Harper Business. Erin Roberts is a climate policy researcher who loves to connect people and ideas. She works with young climate leaders from the global South through the Climate Leadership Initiative and is also the founder of the Loss and Damage Collaboration where her work focuses on strategy, partnerships and fundraising. She would like to dedicate this blog to all the policy entrepreneurs cultivating change on Loss and Damage in Bangladesh who first helped her understand why working together is the only way to make change.