Working in collaboration with others is not an easy terrain to navigate because “the social world is the source of tremendous conflict, and many people never master its seemingly chaotic rules” (Rock, 2009).
While it’s increasingly important for us to collaborate, and there are social benefits for participants, people’s natural inclination is to not socialize outside of their group, and are hard-wired to evaluate others to be potential friend or foe. Unfortunately, the default of the brain is to perceive others as foe which makes collaboration difficult. This is because humans have a default negativity bias in the brain which means that we are more attuned to threats than to rewards because they are more relevant to our survival. Given the default negativity bias in our brain to expect a threat, we need to train our brain and the brains of others to see similarities or relatedness to others.
There is significant research to show the benefits of in-group cohesion, and the destructiveness of out-group hostility. We like people who we consider in our group, while hostility is much more easily triggered for those we see out of our group. On the other hand, we tend to be more empathetic, and accepting of those we perceive to be in-group. “A feeling of relatedness is a primary reward for the brain, and an absence of relatedness generates a primary threat. A sense of relatedness is what you get when you feel you belong to the group, when you feel part of a cohesive team.” (Rock, 2009).
Other things to consider when leading collaboration are the downside of emotional contagion, group-think and social conformity, struggles to find consensus, ambiguity of roles, social loafing and group conflict.
Sandra McDowell, MA, PCC
Author Sandra McDowell is a Certified Executive Coach with a Masters in Leadership and a Certificate in NeuroLeadership, and Vice-President Communications & Culture for First Credit Union & Insurance.