Living systems have no exits – Collaboration is our only option

To be at that time on the clock of the universe when we can make that huge change from ‘othering’ other people to feeling that they are part of us and we are part of them – that’s a wonderful opportunity. It is a wonderful time to be alive – Grace Lee Boggs

Collaboration for sustainability requires well-functioning groups of collective leaders. Such leaders can be labelled management teams, project teams, core groups, committees, partnership teams, task forces, working groups or a network of CEO’s, but what they all have in common is that they work together as a collective.

Life as a collaboration partner

Life is collaborative. It is complex, interdependent and constantly in the process of “self-making”. Although the daily news – with its dominating messages of conflict and competition – opposes this view, holding this view of self making allows us to face the many challenges facing our world today in a new way.

Spending the last 20 years strategically advising international cross-sector multi-stakeholder initiatives showed me a different picture. This picture allows us to see that we -as human beings – carry the same cooperative capacity within us. Moreover, through my work, I became aware that this cooperative capacity can be enhanced and invigorated. Meaningful ways to co-create can become a day-to-day activity – in business and society.

Collaboration across borders

My professional journey often took me into areas where crossing borders, in order to collaborate, became my day-to-day activity.

I began to see how these collaboration initiatives were weaving new patterns of interaction between stakeholders who– using the ‘business as usual’ approach – would not normally talk with each other. Slowly, they began to understand each other’s world. And even, if they did not agree on the content, they also started acknowledging each others’ position.

At the same time I have also seen initiatives, with the best of intentions, fail when collaboration processes fall pray to lingering mistrust, territorial fights, silo-thinking and a lack of meaning and purpose. People get diverted by impeding structures, get trapped into measuring questionable metrics, or become depressed by misunderstandings across departments, sectors, organizations, cultures, races, or genders.

So what is the key to unlocking better collaboration?

We are on a quest to understand the deeper meaning of life

Drawing on living systems theory and my observations about when and how collaboration works best – this is what I discovered: we are all on a quest to understand the deeper meaning of life – together.

It is lived human connectivity that changes the world. Such lived connections create better societies, improve businesses and enhance productivity. It is this purpose and meaning that gets us up in the morning and that makes us feel grateful when we lie in bed and review our day. When we feel alive, we become more productive in a collaborative space. We become more vital and more resilient. Moreover, we also contribute to our company or our society in a whole new way so that it too becomes more vital and more resilient.

Acknowledging this quest, our shared humanity and the things which bring us alive motivate us to dig deeper when we are tempted to let go of collaborative endeavours.

Furthermore, tools – such as The Collective Leadership Compass  – allows us to pay attention to the places where we are strong, as well as the places which needs work, as we dance deeper into our quest for collaboration, wholeness ,meaning and aliveness.

 Won’t you join the dance?

Each step on the sustainability journey takes us deeper into life’s cooperative dance.

We are all part of a global community of people who are dancing into the future together. We want to make a difference in the world, be it for better businesses, more resilient societies, and increasingly thriving natural environment. As we journey towards the same destination we are also best able to support each other with our hopes and accomplishments, as well as their setbacks and doubts.

This blog post looks at collectiveleadership skills and collaboration.  For more insights on leading collectively with the Compass, subscribe to my blog. For more information on the Art of Leading Collectively, checkout the inside the book and  reviews on, or get inspired by an onsite course that takes the compass into the daily challenges of navigating complex change

Categories: Allgemein and Living the six capacities of Collective Leadership.

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