Collaborative Intelligence: The Sequel

Posted By: Jon Lavietes ASAP Webinar, Member Resources,

The latest ASAP webinar reprised a resounding box office smash at the 2023 ASAP Global Alliance Summit: “Collaborative Intelligence: Practical Tools and Best Practices for Teams,” a topic near and dear to Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, founding president of EquiPro International Ltd., who also administers CA-AM certification courses throughout the year. 

As she did during her Summit presentation on the topic, McDermott plugged the book Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently, by Dawna Markova, PhD, and Angie McArthur (2015). And as was the case at the event last spring, she began by reminding listeners that partners are brought in to help fill a gap of some sort—in capability, expertise, or marketplace need. 

From there, McDermott put a much different spin on the dissertation about collaborative intelligence, bringing in new examples, new exercises, and new takeaways, in order to drive home the definition of collaborative intelligence—spoiler alert: the answer is still to bring together diverse ways of thinking in order to solve complex problems—and illustrate how it works in practice. 

“Don’t Limit Yourself to the Obvious” 

At one point during the interactive session, McDermott asked the audience to list some of the desired outcomes for a fictional partnership centered around “customized rings” between an organization that designs this type of high-end jewelry and another that markets and sells it. Attendees returned answers one might expect—better customer experience, improved brand positioning, efficiency to market, and new customer targets—and the most popular reply was arguably the most predictable of all: revenue. 

McDermott next contrasted that exercise by asking the same people to put forth questions that would lead to “added value.” The responses that came back ranged from “How do we reduce customer acquisition costs?” to “What do we do to make this ring the preferred one in the marketplace?” to “What designs have been popular recently, and which ones are up and coming?” 

The benefit of this approach: “We’re now looking at a broader opportunity here driven by customer needs, market needs, innovation. The test for me on whether an alliance team is using or capitalizing on collaborative intelligence is the strategic notion of those questions,” said McDermott. “You don’t limit yourself to the obvious, ‘We just want to get more revenue.’”  

The larger point of this assignment was to drive home what collaborative intelligence looks like in practice and the fresh new perspectives it can engender.   

“The important thing is that you come together to think differently together. That’s the essence of collaborative intelligence. Not easy to do,” said McDermott.

Don’t Be the Judge of That

McDermott proceeded to deliver a short list of pros and cons of collaborative intelligence. On one hand, diversity is a positive thing in all of its intended meanings and consequences—“we all think that’s really good,” McDermott noted. However, more points of view potentially mean more disagreements, and although that may not be a bad thing in the long run, it’s harder to manage from day to day. She listed five critical components for successful collaborative intelligence: 1) accepting and respecting diversity, 2) managing conflict, 3) building consensus, 4) strategic thinking, and 5) relationship building.

She broke down the first of these elements with a slide listing the words “judging,” “understanding,” “respecting,” “appreciating,” and “valuing” in that order. 

“If you’re going to truly engage in collaborative intelligence you will need to stop the judging. You need to evaluate how much judging is going on, and then find ways to stop it. You can’t eliminate it because that's just human nature,” said McDermott. However, she drove home the point that an excessive amount of judgingcould damage relationships considerably. Conversely, “If I understand why that’s your primary thinking style and what it gets you, I will respect you more for it.” With that respect comes appreciation, which in turn leads people to “value that difference that you have with me.” 

A Map of Many Thinking Styles  

McDermott next presented what she called a “thinking map” that grouped several dozen work styles into four quadrants:  

  • Analytic – Concerned with data, facts, and numbers, and being logical and rational
  • Relational – Concerned with feelings, morale, teamwork, and the development of people
  • Innovative – Concerned with the future, newness, possibilities, strategy, and the big picture
  • Procedural – Concerned with process, operation, logistics, and tactics

Each of the many styles has its pluses and minuses. McDermott had the audience prove this by listing some that might be characteristic of “innovative” people. Attendees noted that innovators tended to be inquisitive, envision future possibilities, think outside the box, and put forth ideas for new solutions. On the flip side, these same people could be prone to a lack of action, pragmatism, or decisiveness and could in some cases be guilty of neglecting real-world day-to-day deliverables and realities. Being innovative “can be a very big benefit” but “it can also be frustrating.” 

Mind the Gap, Then Fill It with Something Different

And this is true for any personality type. 

“None of [those styles] in and of themselves are perfect,” McDermott noted.  

She urged alliance team leaders to get each of their team members to identify their thinking style from the four quadrants—found in the aforementioned book Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently—and similarly list their pros and cons, then identify what styles are missing that could help propel the group to their end goal. 

“What are you going to get as a result of maximizing the diversity? What’s the gap, in terms of the diversity you have and the diversity you think you need to handle these challenges? Then do the mapping exercise,” McDermott advised. “If we are going to tackle these challenges, what are we missing? It’s really about filling the gap.”

And even if alliance managers don’t use this particular tool from the Collaborative Intelligence book, McDermott urged listeners to find their own “that helps you get at differences that is nonjudgmental, that allows people to openly talk about and discuss, what are some of the differences? What’s the value of these differences to our teams?”

The Last Word—but Collaborative Intelligence Continues On

In her work with clients, McDermott utilizes a collaborative intelligence best practices assessment consisting of 30 principles. She closed the session by listing four of them:  

  • Paraphrasing and summarizing discussions periodically to verify misunderstandings of common goals.
  • Valuing and seeking the opinion of others with very different opinions and experiences.
  • Being more interested in my colleague’s needs than my own. 
  • Not needing to get the last word on each subject.

McDermott’s last words were to urge viewers to think about a best practice they could bring to augment the collaborative intelligence creative process.

And our last word is to plug the next ASAP webinar taking place March 28, in which Jan Twombly, CSAP, president, and Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, cofounder of The Rhythm of Business, will examine “An Evolution in Impact and Influence” in the alliance management profession.