Teambuilding and Collaboration: The Rules of the Game
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This week, I am in Washington DC facilitating a meeting of twelve national organizations who have gathered to address the challenges of healing racism and achieving racial equity. This meeting is their first, so establishing a good framework and the right terms of engagement are vital. The efficacy of these organizations will hinge on their ability to successfully collaborate.
This gathering will bring together some very bright, talented, passionate and committed people. In theory, one might imagine teambuilding and collaboration to be easy, natural and even simple things to do. In practice however, they are typically exercises in managing conflict among a few temperamental contributors while working to elicit input from a more reluctant majority. While preparing for this meeting, I reflected on some perspectives that Manuel Pastor, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, shared with me a few weeks ago. His story emphasizes the differences between playing chess and completing a jigsaw puzzle.
The object of chess is to annihilate your opponent. It is a game that pits one person against another. The fate and reputation of the winner - whether it is an individual, school, community or country - rests solely on the skill of that one person. There are two colors, black and white, and once you choose your color, you cannot change. Some pieces are more powerful than others, therefore some pieces (i.e. pawns) are more expendable than others (i.e. bishops, queens, kings). In the end, there is a clear winner and a clear loser.
The object of completing a jigsaw puzzle is to replicate a picture that has been clearly seen by and shared with everyone involved. It is more effective, efficient and often more fun if many people are involved. Each piece is unique – a different shape, size and color – but every piece is equally important. In fact, if just one piece is missing, the puzzle cannot be completed. Therefore, nothing is expendable. In the end, there is a seamless depiction of the original vision, with credit going to all involved.
I shared this story with a group of elementary school teachers a couple of weeks ago, and in fact had them complete a jigsaw puzzle to demonstrate how the process works. In the end, I asked them whether, during the course of their day-to-day activities, they were playing chess or building a jigsaw puzzle? It gave them pause to think, as well as a practical tool to take into their classrooms and planning sessions as they work together to create a high-achieving, safe and inclusive school.
I plan to share the same story with these twelve organizations as they begin to create a collaborative relationship to address the big issues of healing racism and achieving racial equity. And I invite you as you are working with your teams and collaborations to ask yourselves –
Are we playing chess, or are we working together to build a jigsaw puzzle?
If you answer is the former, run out to your local toy store, purchase a jigsaw puzzle, and make sure that it is the first item on your agenda for your next meeting. It will likely change the rules of your teambuilding and collaboration game in ways that you could not imagine.
PS – I highly recommend Manuel Pastor’s latest book, “Uncommon Common Ground – Race and America’s Future,” co-authored with Angela Glover Blackwell and Stewart Kwoh. It is available from American Assembly Press.
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