-by Errol St.Clair Smith-
The headline read: “Baboons Work Together To Escape From Biomedical Testing Facility.”
Fascinating… according to this story in the Huffington Post, a group of four curious monkeys put their skills and resources together and achieved something that we humans struggle with daily… working together effectively.
There is near universal agreement about two well-established but conflicting truisms:
– Working with others is more important now than ever before in the history of humankind.
– More often than not we don’t work well with each other.
The rapidly growing complexity in the world has caused the complexity within organizations to increase from 50-350% over a 15 year period. We can glean from the Boston Consulting Group complexity study why working together effectively has become more critical. None of us (no matter how smart ) can know all we need to know to solve the increasingly complex problems faced inside or outside of our classrooms. Simply said, walking into a classroom, a school, an organization, or country and closing the door behind us is a shortcut to mediocre performance. So how are we responding to this new reality?
In 2017 the Flipped Learning Global Initiative started working with a group of educators from around the world to create an international faculty. Early in the process, we asked the candidates to describe their past experiences of working with others.
– 45% said that their relationships typically produced much more value and impact than they could produce alone.
– 20% said their relationships typically produced significant value and impact, but not more than they could produce alone.
– 35% said working with others typically produced little or no value or impact.
We’ve found that this microcosm of educators closely mirrors what many educators routinely experience and voice when it’s safe to do so. Which raises another question. If the field of education is all about relationships, why do we so often struggle to work together effectively?
The list of why working together is harder than most of us acknowledge is long. We’ll just touch on a few of the highlights:
This list is considerably longer and includes things like lack of trust, poor communication, the absence of common values, no shared commitment, or a general disinterest in learning from others.
But wait, there’s more. On top of the quirkiness of individuals and groups, there is a list of myths and misconceptions that make working with others even more challenging. See if you recognize any of them:
Belief: Group brainstorming is an effective way to generate great ideas
Fact: The popularity of group brainstorming began in the 50s. However, a meta-study of brainstorming by Brian Mullen, Craig Johnson & Eduardo Salas supports decades of research. “Generally, brainstorming groups are significantly less productive than nominal groups, in terms of both quantity and quality.” Yet, the group brainstorming myth persists despite data showing that solitude produces superior creative output. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” makes this point powerfully in her NY Times’ piece.
So is this a case for working alone in our comfortable silos? No, the takeaway is that group brainstorming is not the best place for generating creative ideas, but group work is great for exchanging ideas and enhancing ideas. Indeed, working with others is essential to cross-pollinating ideas, discovering new possibilities, and avoiding broadly known mistakes.
Belief: Working with people who share my experience, and expertise produces the best result.
Fact: This is a prevailing view among many groups of professionals. In the last five years, we’ve seen strong pushback among educators who were often excluded from education policy decisions and now insist that only educators know what’s best for education. But the data show that working with people who have the same experiences, motivations, skills, and worldview are more likely to lead to groupthink versus truly creative solutions to complex education-related problems. Conversely, diverse groups generate more ideas. Translation: People from different disciplines, with different worldviews and complementary skill sets, are an asset.
Belief: Relying on other people, other groups, people outside of myself or my “tribe” makes me vulnerable.
Fact: Today, it is increasingly difficult for anyone to do well alone. Though both the self-made person and tribalism are comfortable relics of the past, today even competitors, and adversaries are collaborating with each other. The data from all around the world is clear. Connect, cooperate, collaborate, or wither. Whether we’re talking about a teacher, a school, or a school system, few things leave us more vulnerable than operating in an isloated silo.
As you know, “collaboration” is the popular nickname for working well with others. Collaboration is frequently talked about, often attempted, and too often yields poor results. Tim Quinn summed it up when he said, “War is easy, collaboration is hell.”
We’ve identified a hierarchy with six levels of collaborative relationships. Which ones have you experienced?
A sober, nuanced, pragmatic understanding of collaboration is needed more than ever. Just talking about collaboration, reconfiguring classrooms for group work, or capriciously pulling people together to work on every project, can be more destructive than productive. Effective collaboration requires us to rethink at least five things:
Every day we make our operating policies known in words and actions. Our collaborators may not always agree with us, but these policies bring consistency and congruency to our interactions.
I’m often amazed by the expectations we have when working with others. Many of us expect the process to be easy going, uncomplicated, linear, and near effortless. Many are uncomfortable with the ambiguity, uncertainty, and managed chaos that often typifies great collaborations. Perhaps this explains why so many Flipped Learning educators continue (maybe prefer) to go solo.
FLGI’s ongoing study of the state of Flipped Learning worldwide continues to show that the overwhelming majority of Flipped Learning practitioners are working in silos. Many are the only teachers or professors flipping lessons in their schools or universities. Some are in the only department who have flipped instruction. Even those who are involved in some peer collaboration with other Flipped Learning practitioners tend to create “local programs” or form “tribes” that are isolated from the global best practices of the worldwide Flipped Learning community. This likely explains why some of the most experienced and established Flipped Learning veterans are three to five years behind global best practices. Unfortunately, the prevailing inclination is to go it alone, to build silos instead of bridges, to be a big fish in a small pond.
Working well with others is not always pretty, easy, or enjoyable. But when we get the right people working together for the right reasons, the speed, efficacy, and impact they produce are astounding.
This issue of FLR is all about members of the Flipped Learning community who have left their silos and are effectively working together with other educators around the globe. Here they share their successes, struggles, losses, and lessons.
Every one of them will tell you that getting out of their silos and working with others is hard. Virtually all will also tell you that it’s been worth it… undeniably worth it.
The four baboons agree.