The next evolution in understanding collaborative leadership 

What are your current workplace challenges involving collaboration? I’m not talking about technology but humanology! Might your team be working in silos, or not communicating, hard to get along with, showing personal agendas, approval seeking from the boss?


Are there other difficulties that arise from a lack of collaboration? How about:

  • Missed deadlines by other departments preventing you from doing your function
  • Managerial in-fighting, decreasing the flow of information and feedback
  • Intellectual arrogance and bullying
  • Under-performance or incompetence of a report, peer or even more difficult – a boss

In discussing these situations, I like to ask the question: Do you think any of these executives are doing those behaviors on purpose? The answer I get 90% of the time is “No, they are unaware” but in some cases there is a “Yes.”

So, what is The New Science of Collaboration and how does it work?

The New Science of Collaboration is the study, assessment and development of the individual and team as it relates to achieving their shared goal. It involves becoming more aware of the foundational and operating beliefs, attitudes/emotions, behaviors and skills of the individuals on the team.

For starters, it recognizes the highly developed skills and gifts of the team members and clearly calls them forward to be used in the tactical execution of the plan to achieve the shared goal. It also addresses the unconscious behaviors that block higher levels of collaboration and productivity, and surfaces the unconscious beliefs and emotions that drive those behaviors. This is a critical aspect of the New Science of Collaboration because this is what drives everything. Most other approaches to collaboration work the behavioral and attitudinal levels without getting to the beliefs. That approach takes 5 times the energy, time and intention if it makes the necessary shifts at all. For this to happen, the leader must be aware of this dynamic and have the skill sets to work the necessary elements involved.

You might ask, “What are the necessary elements?” Everyone comes to the table with a consciousness involving four levels whether they know it or not. They are: Beliefs, Attitudes/Emotions, Behaviors, and Skills. This combination of elements produces an energy field around the individual. Some executives can pick this up when they walk into a meeting room. It’s as if they can feel it in the air.

The foundation is the belief structure, which typically drives the attitude or emotional state, which drives the behavior.


I’ll give you an example of this dynamic. A co-worker and I were having a difference of opinion when she said something where I got my feelings hurt. Once that happened, I could feel my energy rise. My voice got louder and more intense and my choice of words became aggressive. Once my energy changed, I noticed hers becoming harder and defensive. This went on for an uncomfortable twenty minutes before I sat back and got quiet for a few minutes. I questioned my behavior, my feelings and my basic beliefs about what was going on. What I concluded was that my behavior indicated I was attacking my co-worker because I felt hurt and threatened and I believed her intent was to harm me. That’s what I believed to be true in that moment!

When my rational mind came back, I could see the dynamics that were in play. The belief that “she wanted to hurt me” was really untrue, since I knew her to be a trusted co-worker who cared for me. Once I remembered that, the emotion simply dissolved and I had the freedom once again to choose different behaviors such as: becoming more vulnerable and transparent. This was only possible because of a shift in my beliefs. I told her that the comment she made hurt and I felt attacked. As soon as I said this she softened her energy and apologized. I wanted to shift the conversation into how we could resolve this issue productively and set a protocol for the future. That was simple after I shifted my approach to the conversation.

The major shift in this interaction began with replacing the belief that “she wants to hurt me” with “she wants what’s best for me but doesn’t know how to make that happen.” Once that shift took place, everything else followed. I was able to choose the behaviors, which turned the conversation in a productive direction. Once my energy changed, so did hers – her intensity dissolved into a more amiable tone and I could use my skills to produce a desired outcome.

Why is awareness important?

Because almost every time we do an unproductive behavior it is an unconscious choice.  Ask yourself:  “Do you think that person is consciously doing this action?”  As a manager, tell me what your energy field would be like if your manager unconsciously carried these beliefs – or their counter beliefs:

  • I’m the boss and you had better do what I say VS We’re all in this together with a shared goal
  • You need to please me or I will take it out on you come bonus time VS You need to be challenged and given the appropriate support to grow
  • I take all the credit for what comes out of this department VS Credit gets passed through to my team and I take the hit on mistakes

Can you get the visceral difference in your energy in working for a boss with a red belief structure as apposed to the blue belief structure?  OK, you get the idea.

As the manager, you need to be aware of what’s going on inside of you if you want to be able to choose collaborative behaviors particularly in sticky situations.  Otherwise, your beliefs will unconsciously create intense uncomfortable feelings at times which will drive your unproductive behaviors.  It’s not a good thing when your emotions are driving the bus.

Attitudes/Emotions = Energy in motion

It’s not so critical that we be aware of our emotions when they are desirable or comfortable.  Even uncomfortable emotions are not a problem until they hit a certain level of intensity where they cross a threshold that we call the Hijack Line.  When that line is crossed, we have no choice over our behaviors and resort to defensive behaviors that were designed for survival when we were between 4 and 7 years old.  Anything to do with survival bypasses the thought process and goes right into action.  That’s how we survived 10 million years ago, when the Saber-toothed tiger was chasing us.  If we stopped to think we would have been dinner!

Let’s get back to the dynamic of understanding that when we feel a certain of level of intensity of an uncomfortable emotion, we go unconscious in our selection of behaviors.  So we have some inner work to do in three areas, which are:

  1. Restructure our beliefs into a more productive foundation
  2. Coach ourselves in being able to reduce the intensity of uncomfortable feelings
  3. Inwardly work at raising the level of our Hijack Line

Every time I’ve done something stupid it was because I was so angry, resentful, hurt … you fill in your emotion that drives your unproductive behavior … that I couldn’t control myself.  In just about every meeting I’m in, I witness an executive who takes offense/gets hurt by a comment from another executive and I watch them say something aggressive or back out of the conversation.  I know the person making the comments is in an unconscious response, which is normally a counter attack, or possibly a withdrawal from engagement.

The emotions play a very important collaborative part in the area of passionate dialogue.  When discussions get heated, very frequently they move into being against one another, which changes the energy field dramatically and makes the room unsafe.  Very frequently it moves into win/lose and that wastes time and energy and normally takes a toll on their relationship.  Only those personalities who are comfortable with conflict can stay in them.  It is a skill to dialogue passionately and at the same time keep the energy towards an unseen outcome satisfying to everyone, rather than to make those expressing a different opinion the enemy.  This is a skill not many executives demonstrate.  But those who do have this mastered get a lot of work done.

Behaviors –Who is driving the bus?

Again, as long as my emotions are desirable or just slightly uncomfortable, choosing my behavior is not a challenge.  But once those emotions cross the Hijack Line, I am no longer driving my bus and choosing my behaviors.  It is critical to be aware of my beliefs and attitudes/emotions so I can step in and coach myself back into a productive space before taking some action.  If you witness someone doing unproductive behaviors, you know right away that their emotions are driving the bus.  My advice is not to try to fix the problem, but to help them get their emotions back in line so they can have a productive conversation.

This has always been the challenge between the male and female energies.  The female energy comes to the male energy with a problem, wanting empathy.  The male energy bypasses the emotions and goes right to fixing the problem.  The female goes away feeling frustrated and misunderstood, while the male energy scratches his head, wondering what just happened.

Skills – The last element

I won’t go into depth right now about the skills, other than to mention them briefly. The skills build upon themselves and increase in complexity and difficulty in mastering.  There are five levels of a collaborative meme or energy field, and with each of them is a correlating skill.  They build as follows:

  1. Active listening – Inviting engagement
  2. Dialogue – Balancing inquiry and advocacy
  3. Feedback – Giving and receiving
  4. Conflict management – Shifting “against-ness” into “for-ness”
  5. Facilitation – Handling other executives’ issues

In the next blog, I will go into depth about the five levels that create a collaborative meme.

In closing, there’s something else I’d like to share.  Certain executives are not capable of collaboration at their current level of self-awareness.  Without self-awareness, it is simply too much to ask of executives to participate in productive ways on a team.  They are better in roles of sole contributors until they elevate their inner work.

There is much more to the science of collaborative leadership, but the points I’ve made above form a good foundation to build on.

I would love to hear your feedback and answer any questions that you might have.

Tom Dyer

Collaborative Outcomes, Inc.

About Tom Dyer

Tom Dyer is president of the consulting firm Collaborative Outcomes. For over 20 years he has assisted teams in successfully achieving their shared goals through higher degrees of collaboration.  He has worked with leaders in large organizations across the globe.  He has worked with teams in numerous global corporations including Sanofi, Novo Nordisk, Merck and Boehringer-Ingelheim.

As a recognized consultant and facilitator, Tom has developed a unique business collaboration process that helps individuals and teams raise their confidence and collaborative skills that generate a genuine team collaborative environment.  As part of this process, team members are equipped to successfully deal with common obstacles to collaboration such as silos, big egos, and subtle team dynamics that prevent peak performance from individuals and the team.

When a true collaborative team environment is created, the intellectual capital of the team produces above and beyond quantifiable business results.

Tom Dyer specializes in working with intact collaborative teams and their key stakeholders as they relate to achieving the shared outcome in the following areas:

  • Collaborative Strategic Planning Retreats—helping teams to intentionally incorporate a collaboration aspect in their strategic planning
  • Collaborative Team Consulting with intact teams with a high need for collaboration for success over an extended period of time
  • Collaborative Leadership Development — supporting the leaders through the inner work of collaboration within the context of a measurable business goal
  • Collaborative Skill Development Training—helping clients develop real time collaboration skills that are immediately necessary to deliver against the execution plan.

Tom Dyer works specifically with intact teams working towards key business outcomes with large financial impact to their companies.  Clients have serious commitment to their shared outcome and are willing to do the work necessary both personally and organizationally to achieve their outcomes.  Collaborative Outcomes can guide any such team into successful accomplishment of their shared goal!

Tom can be contacted at:

C:  973.464.4949