Man’s life is usually free and comforting with joy, relief, and hope for himself and his environment. Development and progress normally ensue naturally with ordinary efforts when times are good and can best be described as normal. Thus, ordinary daily life is devoid of unforeseen anxieties and stressful deprivations in society’s economic, political, or religious environment and aspirations.
Life, however, changes to become very unwelcome, frustrating, and dejected when the normal daily experiences and expectations in man’s social, economic, political, religious, and or domestic dynamics change unfavorably. The man then sees times to be in crisis.
In such circumstances, almost all societies, institutions, and organizations become unstable with agonies of looming uncertainties to some degree. Therefore, the need for a collaborative solution becomes very imperative with the consciousness that joint decisions and strategic directions may significantly impact positively on all cooperating organizations, their constituents, and dependents, as well as other stakeholders.
This presentation, therefore, seeks to look at the key elements of the topic, Crisis, and Collaboration, how effective collaborative working can be achieved in times of crisis, then the benefits and the pitfalls of working collaboratively close the discussion.
- WHAT IS CRISIS?
The word ‘crisis’ has Greek origins and refers to an important moment in which the future is undetermined. It is usually used in relation to the concept of stressful situations of uncertainty or difficulty. Crisis always suggests a frightening or troubling experience requiring immediate decision to stop a system from further disintegration but the causes of the dysfunction or abnormal performance are not immediately identified or known. Therefore, it is impossible to take a rational and informed decision to reverse the situation.
According to Wikipedia, “A crisis is any event or period that will lead or may lead, to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, or all of society. Crises are negative changes in human or environmental affairs, especially when they occur abruptly, with little or no warning.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary also defines crisis as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.”
In the view of the English Dictionary crisis is “An unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty” or “The point of time when it is to be decided whether any affair or course of action must go on or be modified or terminated; the decisive moment; the turning point.”
The Cambridge English Dictionary, therefore, relates crisis to a medical “moment during a serious illness when there is the possibility of suddenly getting better or worse” or “an extremely difficult or dangerous point in a situation.”
A close look at the various definitions of crisis brings of some distinctive characteristics as follows:
- Its occurrence is unexpected but usually emerge as a surprise
- It creates high levels of uncertainty and anxiety
- It is seen as a threat to important goals and aspirations
- It brings about change or transformation in a system or the way it operates
- It requires a very short time to make and implement effective decisions
Put these attributes together means the crisis is an event that threatens the very stability and survival of an organization, business, or society. The effective processes by which such intimidating event which negatively affects an organization, its dependents, stakeholders, or the general public are tackled and dealt with is Crisis Management. Among the most common and effective strategies for managing a crisis are teamwork at an organizational level and collaboration among the top management of different organizations or entities.
- WHAT IS COLLABORATION?
In the Cambridge English Dictionary, collaboration is “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.” Collaboration, in the definition of Wikipedia, is “the process of two or more people, entities or organizations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal.” Thus, “collaboration is a purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome.”
During times of crisis, it is crucial that human groups and organizations communicate and collaborate to maintain an effective society. Working as a team in crisis do not only results in higher productivity but also fosters healthy relationships among the cooperating entities. Normally, when people work together they become more effective and efficient than those who attempt to manage the same projects or challenges single-handedly.
Successful collaboration among businesses, institutions, and groups of people can also increase motivation and level of engagement among their members through the sharing of ideas and brainstorming which are very essential for developing unique solutions to complex challenges. Failing to collaborate in crisis in times of emergency situations can therefore increase the vulnerability of organizations and societies towards potential disasters.
For instance, the current COVID-19 pandemic the whole world is experiencing has put some substantial burden on both families and business organizations and several institutions, be it public or private, profit or not for profit. All human organizations are therefore looking for immediate and better measures to sustain their lives by minimizing their losses, ensuring ongoing social effectiveness, which can guarantee future security. Efforts have therefore been made on several fronts by bringing together groups of prominent and emerging experts from diverse backgrounds including health, academia, business, politics, media, civil society, and culture.
In such strategic collaborative initiatives, a more proactive and well-thought-out joint effort can produce effective solutions towards sustainability which would significantly mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on the cooperating entities and the society at large, or meaningfully improve the well-being of those involved and that of their numerous dependents and stakeholders.
A combination of ideas, resources, and efforts in responding to the crisis can therefore produce unprecedented innovation and transform several ways both society and its institutions/organization do things for the better of all.
However, such magnificent benefits can never be realized without organizational leadership’s readiness to first appreciate the need for and positive mutual advantages their organizations and the society at large stand to gain, and their willingness to accept collaboration and shared efforts.
Usually, countries, companies, institutions, and organizations that pride themselves as bigger and assume self-reliance scarcely open up to share these ideals, despite the importance of such transparency and mutual approach being well-recognized by several research and management professionals.
- HOW IS EFFECTIVE COLLABORATION ACHIEVED?
Collaboration among groups and organizations is teamwork operating at a high level. In as much as collaboration has been recognized as imperative during times of crisis, successful collaboration always requires the fulfillment of certain crucial conditions which are seen as the actual building blocks of strong performance. These may include:
- Belief in a common objective
The need for mutually discussed, agreed and effectively communicated joint vision and objectives as cooperating individuals and community are fundamental to the success of the cooperation. In situations where predetermined objectives and purposes for any joint efforts are handed down to partners without their opportunity to discusses and or provide inputs, there is a high tendency of lack of commitment and alienation in accomplishing the task.
When people see that they are working toward a common goal, they are more willing to work together to achieve it. A collaborative workforce is able to look beyond personal agendas and competition between teams and recognize that each person and team has a unique role to play in meeting the common goal. When everyone is unanimously focused on the shared goal, a sense of comradeship develops and people begin to see that they are “all in this together.”
- Openness to learn
Understanding the various strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of the participating individuals or groups, and readiness to seek improvement. This might seem obvious but unfortunately, human beings and most organizations do not seem to be very good at self-awareness, especially in work-related skills. Over-rating one’s capabilities and one’s ability to accomplish a given task within a particular time frame could result in an unwillingness to collaborate or have a negative impact on the outcomes of the team working.
- Openness to share
The tendency for top officials to embrace collaboration to the largest extent depends on their own trust and kindheartedness towards other people. Pessimism, meanness, and scarcity mindset type of leaderships are quick to read negativity to any collaborative initiatives and may do everything possible to discourage or frustrate the process.
- Mutual Trust
It very important for all participating groups and entities in any successful collaboration to believe that their views will be listened to and considered and that they won’t be ridiculed or otherwise be put at a disadvantage for expressing their views.
- Open Leadership Commitment
Leaders set the tone for followers, helping to encourage and guide collaboration within and between organizations and teams. It is the leaders who also communicate expectations for the collaboration and guide individuals to be better at working together, and creating a sense of urgency. For the success of any collaboration, the leaderships involve will have to model collaborative behaviors through their own words and openly demonstrated commitment which usually builds strong networks within and across the cooperating entities. Leadership encouragement, recognition, and rewarding others who promote or work harder to engage in collaborative behaviors also contribute to collaboration effectiveness. Such postures of collaborative leaders can help each organization resist the formation of barriers and rather encourage a culture in which collaboration among members occurs naturally.
- Clearly Defined Roles for Subgroups
Collaboration becomes possible and more rewarding for everyone involved in the expected roles of individual groups, organizations, or teams contributing to the achievement of the corporate goals are made clearly known. Significant efforts are therefore required to forestall individuals duplicating efforts or overlooking some necessary tasks which can create gaps and quickly breed frustrations and discontent among sections of the collaborating system. Thus, clearly defined roles with verifiable indicators and monitoring mechanisms that stipulate lines of accountabilities can rather promote comfortable teamwork with the sharing of information and ideas.
- Consistency and United Effort
The normal objective for working collaboratively in times of crisis focuses on what results will be derived at the end of the entire process. Although the ultimate goals are always important, the satisfaction and level of contentment of the individuals involved in a truly collaborative workforce also go a long way to maintain a united front and an enthusiastic effort throughout the life of any collaborative program.
The assurance of continuous united effort is important because if any participating entity or a team loses enthusiasm for the shared goal or any of them begins to give less than their best effort, the whole collaborative system or organization can suffer. It is therefore very necessary for all stakeholders to be consistent in demonstrating openness, fairness, genuineness, and commitment towards the ideals and guidelines governing the collaboration from the beginning to the end.
- Effective and Frequent Communication
Even though crisis periods put intense pressure on almost everybody within a given system, effective collaborative work cannot happen without effective communication between organizations, teams, and individuals. No person or group within the collaborative organization can be an island if effectiveness is expected. Collaborative communication creates a more efficient and effective working environment.
Therefore, regular meetings and frequent feedback sessions provide opportunities to set expectations, clarify responsibilities, learn from other team members about what they are doing right, as well as exploring better ways of helping each other. Thus effective communication helps people in the collaboration to learn, make progress on key projects, and overcome obstacles. Where opportunities are created for everyone to communicate, each participant gains the chance to share their ideas and talents with the broader team. Such an environment tends to minimize the risk of frustrations and confusion about expectations and deliverables.
- Resources Sharing to Improve Services
A significant factor for effective collaborative working in times of crisis is the ability of the groups and organizations involved to share resources. The fact is that it has never been very easy to share resources, especially in crisis times when one feels time-constrained and the future is uncertain. However, when resources are shared rather than consistently held close to one’s vest, the whole system ultimately benefits. In collaboration, each team and individual organizations possess some unique resources in the form of information, finances, skills, machinery, time, ideas, and experience that can be helpful to all the others in a truly collaborative working environment. Sharing resources for effective collaboration, therefore, requires the development and enhancement of relationships and commitment to achieve something important through that relationship, and recognition that groups or organizations cannot efficiently achieve that on their own as individuals.
In the face of the urgency of the crisis situation, therefore, it becomes very imperative for the technocrats, professionals, and the research community to share knowledge, resources, and learn from each other’s experiences. With such an understanding and cooperative approach, efficient and effective use will be made of the limited and hard to mobilize resources. In this way, unnecessary dissipation of resources will significantly be eliminated while reducing duplication of effort and allowing others to validate, use, and build on existing structures to achieve higher performance for the general good.
- Periodic and Temporary Suppression of the Ego
A major barrier preventing successful collaboration between people, nations, businesses, and a number of organizations around the world are the ego. Having a healthy ego and a strong sense of confidence is great for a person. However, in collaboration, it is usually required that the ego is oftentimes suppressed so that others can have a voice to share ideas, apply their talents, and contribute to the team’s effectiveness. In a collaborative workforce, the overactive ego of key individuals gives them a distorted image of their own importance relative to others.
In such situations, people see themselves as the center of the universe and begin to put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those affected by their perceptions and actions. Whenever anyone in a collaborative relationship allows pride, envy, or hurt feelings to influence his/her judgment, he/she is likely to make decisions that hurt themselves, their team or their organization, and ultimately their collaborative partners.
- BENEFITS OF COLLABORATION IN TIMES OF CRISIS
A truly collaborative working relationship in periods of crisis can achieve a range of benefits, such as supportive followers, productive employees, more cohesive and enthusiastic teams, and more organizational competitiveness. The diversity of skills, techniques, and the united efforts the cooperating organizations rely on when in collaboration can lead to greater effectiveness, efficiency, and success in times of crisis.
- Quality Teamwork for higher production
Working collaboratively improves members’ qualities of teamwork necessary for a mix of interpersonal, problem solving, and communication skills required to work together towards a common goal to achieve organizational goals in times of crisis.
- Effective Utilization of Skills and Talents
Collaboration generally takes advantage of and sharpens individual organizations, members’ or employees’ talents, ideas, abilities, experiences, and opinions. The opportunity for the individuals and teams to openly work together makes processes and goals become more aligned, leading the group towards a higher success rate of achieving a common goal.
- Easier Solving Problems and Examining the Big Picture
Collaboration results in gathering a significant amount of talents and expertise, including technocrats, academia, professionals, entrepreneurs, and diverse opportunities across a wide range of skills and knowledge backgrounds. This allows collaboration participants to benefit from a variety of perspectives. The process takes advantage to leverage multiple peoples’ expertise, which significantly contributes to solving problems faster and deriving better outcomes in the medium to the long term. The synergy in working collaboratively in times of crisis improves not only the way institutions, businesses, and organizations solve problems but also leads to more innovation, efficient processes, increased success, and improved communication skills which help achieve organizational aspirations.
- Inspiring Self-Introspection
Working collaboratively in times of crisis helps partners to become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Realization of these will help cooperating entities to leverage their best skills, and identify which areas they may need assistance from people with different expertise. Consequently, the collaborating organizations can work better together to fill in any competency gaps identified for current and future advantages.
- Promotes Teaching and Learning
Knowledge acquisition is supposed to be a lifelong phenomenon. Effective collaboration among partners in crisis times offers an opportunity for members to learn things from each other every time they come together to work in partnership. An organization that values collaboration encourages constant teaching and learning for its members or employees to feel more secured by knowing their jobs well, the workplace values, and opportunities to grow and develop. They also feel motivated to expand their skillsets outside their current job duties to develop competencies for tomorrow’s productivity.
- Increases Efficiency
Organizations that subscribe to collaborative working relationships enjoy the benefit of completing multiple projects and meeting deadlines easily, despite their crisis circumstances. Several people working together makes it easier to divide tasks in a way that leverages each group or individual’s greatest strengths. Instead of struggling through tasks which a particular partner is not comfortable doing, collaboration enables such a partner to focus his energy where he can excel to maximize time to improve productivity while other team members take up what he could not effectively handle. Hence, time and other resources are put to efficient use to increase production and organizational competitiveness.
- Promotes Strong Working Relationships
When people work together and succeed as a team, they usually form bonds that can turn into mutual trust and friendship as is human nature. Such relationships are positive for cooperating organizations since members or employees who like and trust each other are more likely to communicate well with each other to minimize group conflicts to promote cohesion and productivity. The bond that developed between individuals and teams facilitates interactions, engagements, commitment, and synergize the group while working towards a common goal. This also ensures better productivity, often higher quality, more creative output, longer-lasting motivation, greater efficiency, and faster delivery.
- COLLABORATION PITFALLS
The seeming attractiveness of working collaboratively in times of crisis doesn’t mean that collaboration always lead to successful outcomes. When collaboration involves quite small things, failure in getting the expected interchanges doesn’t happen it is not a big issue. However, defective collaboration can be a significant problem to a partner where major projects or strategic decisions are involved.
- Over Evaluation and Underestimation
There are times when a party in a collaborative relationship can have an unrealistic view of its own capabilities and contributions to the joint efforts, which can seriously undermine effective collaboration. Some groups or individuals may often underestimate the amount of work or contribution of the other party to a project, which also breeds discomfort and tension. There is therefore the human tendency of responsibility bias, where we exaggerate our own competencies and contributions relative to that of others in a group or team.
- The problem of Equality Bias
It usually the practice that members of the group working collaboratively expect to have and make equal input into critical decisions irrespective of their individual levels of knowledge and experience in the issues being dealt with. Thus team members tend to give the same weight to the opinions of others, regardless of whether they are experts or not, creating equality bias, which can sometimes undervalue important expert advice to the detriment of the group.
A recent research UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience has recognized that: “People are incredibly bad at taking differences incompetence into account when making group decisions. Even when we showed them exactly how competent they each were, they still gave each other more or less equal say. Incredibly, this still continued when people were rewarded with real money for making correct decisions.”
It is therefore important to establish a decision-making process that gives appropriate weight to experience levels and expert contributions if collaborating bodies want to avoid going down a particular route too early before it has been properly evaluated.
- Danger of Groupthink
Generally, members of a collaborating group are influenced to conform to group opinions and behavior. A situation of Groupthink (a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in 1972) occurs when a group’s desire for harmony or conformity causes them to ignore better alternatives resulting in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcomes.
Thus, members working collaboratively may collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many (sometimes all) of the individuals in the group. Such a situation may occur when there is a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group’s ideals and, therefore, does not raise objections.
Sometimes the level of cohesion between team members helps them to develop trust and create such connections that they fail to critically consider decisions among themselves. These bonds can be created in a number of very small ways; for instance, people having the same boss, birthday, ethnic background, name, or hobby.
The importance of such commonalities within groups highlights the benefit of social collaboration tools necessary to create meaningful connections between individuals where none would previously have existed. However, it is also important to sometimes have some diversity within groups to combat groupthink.
- Challenges of Prejudices
The factors that help people to create bonds within teams can also cause them to make simplifying or negative presumptions about those outside their group. Owing to man’s tendency to categorize issues to help us process information more easily, we can tend to think that people in an external group are more similar amongst themselves than the similarities we have within our group. So we usually classify others outside to be a more homogeneous group that we fail to realize the possible individual variations or characteristics.
In the same manner, we may also start to see our own group as homogeneous and superior. These are the fundamental mindsets or types of reactions commonly creating unnecessary tensions between peoples and/or organizations militating against effective working relationships in collaborations.
Group psychology makes this tendency to work in silos and feel as though one group members have little in common with other groups understandable rather than abnormal. However, if left unchecked, it can lead to very negative business outcomes in otherwise healthy collaboration between organizations, across departments, or within a group of people.
To minimize such prejudices to ensure successful working collaboration calls for effective leadership to put strategies in place to dismantle these barriers and create a better understanding that supports the collaboration processes from the onset. The collaborative leadership must ensure a safe environment in which everyone has a non-judgmental hearing and a robust decision-making process that objectively considers all options before selecting a solution.
In his publication, “Why some companies emerge stronger and better from a crisis”, Ian Mitroff, (2005) recognized the need for establishments to get accustomed to new working environment faced with potential crises and begin to look for the best ways to manage them “not if but when” they occur. He postulated that no industry, organization, institution, or business, no matter its size, industry, or location, is immune from this reality of contemporary life.
Assessing from the recent experiences of the Coronavirus pandemic on businesses, our social, economic, and religious lives, and the numerous benefits one can derive from working collaboratively in times of crisis, despite some few setbacks identified, it will not be out of place to highly recommend to all leaderships of churches, institutions, businesses, and other organizations to seriously begin considering forging stronger alliances to help them in times of crisis.
Beginning consciously to institutionalize strategic collaborative relationships with their allies and other stakeholders in their industries as a precursor for effective crisis management would be a prudent step in the right direction. Thank you.
- Patel, A. (2020), “Collaboration during times of crisis”, Strategic HR Review, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 147-149. https://doi.org/10.1108/SHR-04-2020-0039
- Ian Mitroff, (2005), Why some companies emerge stronger and better from a crisis: 7 essential lessons for surviving disaster January 2005
- Alan B. Bernstein and Cindy Rakowitz(2012). Emergency Public Relations: Crisis Management in a 3.0 World. p. 5. ISBN 978-1469159546
Written By: Bro. Emmanuel Antwi
(Principal, Ghana Bible College, Kumasi-Ghana)
Contact: 0200460460 , Email: firstname.lastname@example.org