Collaboration by Difference – avoiding ‘groupthink’

I just came across an interesting post on collaboration by Duke professor Cathy Davidson:

Collaboration by Difference – Video – Harvard Business Review

In this short video, Prof. Davidson suggests that in a collaborative group it is very often the non-expert or the person who is not in charge who has the most interesting thing to say. It is therefore important to structure ways to hear that person to avoid them being drowned out by the more vocal members of the group. She calls this ‘collaboration by difference’, a way of hearing the disrputive or dissident voice.

Prof. Davidson presents three useful strategies for avoiding what she terms ‘groupthink’ when working in groups:

  1. Air out differences democratically. When working with two international groups, this can be done by giving each member of each group two cards. On the first they are asked to write a perceived opportunity and challenge of working with the other group. On the second they write a perceived opportunity and challenge about what they themselves can offer. All cards are collected, shuffled and then read out by a facilitator without identifying who wrote which card. This often helps reveal that all participants are worried and excited about the same things. Rather than focusing on the differences, this helps participants focus on the opportunities nd challenges of working together.
  2. Let non-experts talk first. For example, staff and students are participating in a two-hour workshop on Learning in the Digital Age. By asking staff to sit and listen to the students for the first hour, this helps them to understand and appreciate that the students know much more than staff might think. By flipping the relationship between the expert and the novice it enables everyone to hear suggestions and ideas that might otherwise have been suppressed.
  3. Ask what you’re missing. One person will have the responsibility of identifying what has been missed in the discussion, but no-one knows who that person will be. The person running the meeting will choose a participant at random – this makes everyone pay attention because they don’t know if they will be chosen. Doing this helps indicate that participants might not be as clear on something as they thought they were. This often derails the conversation, but it also often turns out that participants were heading in the wrong direction and it was therefore beneficial for the conversation to be derailed.

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