When we collaborate, we all get better.

Yet, our culture values individualism above all else.

“I can do this. I don’t need you. I won’t depend on anyone.”

You might hear a two year old proclaim indignantly, “I do it myself.”

That approach appeals to us and serves as a declaration of our ability to take care of ourselves. If you look more closely, most of us rely on others for relationships, support, and companionship.

I’m not talking about waiting on the world to serve you. How do we serve each other?

At some point, you need help, directly—or indirectly. I may need a helping hand during a crisis or a minor setback. Sometimes, a smile gives me everything I need. Humans, and animals, do not survive in solitude and total isolation. In our effort to go it alone, we view asking for help as a weakness.

Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” —Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Interdependence: I Need You—You Need Me

In the early 1900s psychologists began to identify the importance of social interdependence. Kurt Lewin expanded on this work the 1920s-1930s. David and Roger Johnson brought the theory into schools through cooperative learning strategies.

Collaboration and teamwork don’t happen by just seating people at a table. High performing teams possess the skills to support a common goal, build on the strengths of the individuals, and establish individual and team accountability.

Common goals create an interdependence among team members. You have seen this happen in times of crisis, flood, earthquakes, a family experiencing trauma or illness. Two results occur when we become a “dynamic whole.”

“… a change in the state of any member or subgroup changes the state of any other member or subgroup

…an intrinsic state of tension within group members motivates movement toward the accomplishment of the desired common goals.”

—David and Roger Johnson

Couldn’t you just do it faster alone? Forget all this working together. Collaborative work doesn’t exclude individual work. When you bring your work to the team, you contribute to the collective understanding and knowledge. You begin to expose the unknown in surprising and unexpected ways.

I’ve seen this happen in groups, especially when everyone comes to the table with hope. Hope that you and I together can solve this problem bro matter how large or small the task.

With more perspectives and different questions, your work can become the “aha” moment that propels the solution forward or reveals a better one.

“Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.” — Stephen Covey

The Power of Positive

What do you bring to the team? Your expertise? Experience? Do you bring the ability to organize the details? Or do you push the team to step back and look at the bigger picture from a systems view?

Everyone has something to bring. As I have worked with, in, and on teams, I notice one quality that each person must bring—a positive mindset. Difficult problems come with overwhelming obstacles. The weight of the issue can crush your spirit and send you into despair.

Annie McKee researches what it takes to be happy at work. Positive relationships knit together our collective success. How we show up matters because our attitude projects those emotions.

Positive emotions and a state of mind characterized by hope and compassion create a resonant climate, an environment where everyone can be fulfilled and effective, too. — Annie McKee, How to Be Happy at Work

When we become what Shawn Achor calls a “positive node,” we improve the creativity, productivity, and performance of the group. The whole become greater than the part.

Survival of the Fittest

Parents, schools, and society focus rewards on individual contributions. The underlying assumption that prevails honors “survival of the fittest.” Only those who excel with the best grades or make the most sales will prosper. Getting into the top school and graduating with honors will guarantee success.

In Big Potential, Shawn Achor shares the current research related to our potential for success. His work cuts across multiple disciplines: neuroscience, psychology, and network analysis. Positive systems research emerged from his work.

“We now know that achieving our highest potential is not about survival of the fittest; it is survival of the best fit…Success is not just about how creative or smart or driven you are, but how well you are able to connect with, contribute to, and benefit from the ecosystem around you.”

This shift in thinking aligns to and supports the concepts of Kurt Lewin and the Johnsons. We remain socially interdependent humans. We flourish, when we find out how to build upon our collective strengths. Shawn differentiates between small and big potential.

“SMALL POTENTIAL is the limited success you can 
achieve alone.
BIG POTENTIAL is the success you can achieve only
in a Virtuous Cycle with Others.”

Big Potential SEEDS

How do you move toward your BIG POTENTIAL? Collaboration with others forms the foundation. Shawn outlines five stages that he refers to as the SEEDS of Big Potential. He uses the seed metaphor to highlight that seeds cannot grow alone. They need fertile soil, water, and sunlight.

Humans need each other to reach our individual and collective BIG POTENTIAL.

SURROUND yourself with a Star System of Positive Influencers.
EXPAND your power by helping others lead from every seat.
ENHANCE your resources by becoming a Prism of Praise.
DEFEND the system against negative attacks.
SUSTAIN the gains by fueling the Virtuous Cycle.

We face new challenges every day. The world does not stand still. How we choose to collaborate facing an uncertain future will determine the outcomes for each of us.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has.”
—Margaret Mead

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

Photo: © Kathryn LeRoy