Collaboration vs. Control: A Classic Workplace Power Struggle

Collaboration vs. Control: A Classic Workplace Power Struggle by ROBIN BARBER

 “I think it’s a natural tendency for people to want to be in control,” says business and leadership blogger Dan Oswald. In fact, I read the other day that the feeling of a lack of control contributes significantly to a person’s stress level. So, it makes sense that all of us would prefer to be in control. It certainly beats the alternative of being controlled. Right?

 The definition of control is “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” Think about those words for a minute. Let’s start with the first four words of the definition, “the power to influence.

Well, right off the bat, that sounds like less than what most of us think of as control. The “power to influence” seems like a bit of a hedge to me. “Control” means things are happening exactly as we dictate, nothing less. Well, if you’re only influencing events, then you aren’t dictating them.

Let’s continue with the next four words of the definition, “or direct people’s behavior.” Here we go again. We are directing people’s behavior, but we all know that humans are unpredictable and have minds of their own.

Ask any movie director how much control he actually has. Can he influence the actors’ words? Certainly. Can he direct their actions? Yes. But in the end, every actor will play the same role differently—even when being directed by the same individual.

You see, we humans are all distinct and unique. We all respond differently to various situations. That leads me to believe that the true control all of us think we want, and many of us think we achieve is really impossible to attain.

 And that’s why I believe we should all be striving for collaboration instead of control. Collaboration lies at the heart of success. Napoleon said it best: “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” Now that sounds like collaboration to me.

Try on for size the definition of collaboration. “Collaboration is working with someone to produce or create something.” Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do in a work setting? Don’t we all have to work with others to produce or create something? A business is an organization made up of many people all working toward a common goal.

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” That’s how the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi described it. And as a coach, he may have directed his players’ actions, but I don’t think he controlled those players. He had 11 grown men on the field at any given time. He could influence their behavior, but he couldn’t control them. If he could, his players would never have jumped offside, would never have fumbled the ball, and would never have made a mistake.

As a manager, I think it’s much better to think about collaboration than control. Your job as a manager is to get everyone working together to achieve a common goal. It seems to me that collaboration is what leads to success—not control.

Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” It’s your job as a manager to get everyone to move forward together.

Sometimes that takes cajoling, sometimes it means giving directives, and other times it means leading so others can follow. It’s your job to figure out how each individual will respond in a given situation and then, using your influence, get them all to move forward as one. That’s no easy task!

But to achieve success, that’s exactly what it takes. So, I put forward that you, as a manager, should begin by thinking in terms of collaboration instead of control. I don’t believe that true control is actually achievable and attempting to control can be destructive.

We all need to figure out how to foster collaboration in our organizations. To succeed, we must get everyone working together toward a common goal. Don’t look at yourself as a movie director trying to dictate every word and action of the people you manage.

Instead, consider yourself a conductor of a symphony who must get everyone to work in concert to achieve success. See yourself in front of the players asking for more bass, getting the percussionist to chime in at the right moment, and eliciting the very best out of every member of the orchestra without ever speaking a word!

Some of you SEIU Local 620 members are supervisors or leads over other SEIU Local 620 members. This can be a difficult or awkward position to be in when you are trying to balance your relationship with your union and also with your subordinates. The bottom line is that you have to do your job to the best of your ability as a supervisor or lead and your union expects nothing less.

 However, as a collective bargaining group you have a responsibility to maintain a working, united, relationship with each other as members too. This makes it all the more important to ensure you are doing your job from a place of fairness, respect, and yes collaboration when at all possible. How paradoxical  is it for us to fight for fairness, respect, and a voice in the workplace as a union when our members who are supervisors or leads fail to be fair, respectful, and collaborative with their own staff who are also union members fighting for that same thing in the workplace?

 Any time you have two or more human beings working together, it’s inevitable: At some point, there will be conflict between them.

In today’s difficult economy, employees are feeling the stress. They’re being asked to do more with less, take on additional responsibilities, and do everything better, faster, and cheaper. They’re facing layoffs, reduced schedules, and pay cuts, and the frustration from not being in control will no doubt rear its ugly head soon enough. What may start out as a minor scuffle between co-workers can quickly escalate into a full-blown argument — or even worse — if it’s not promptly and properly addressed. And this is where your supervisors or leads come into play.

Supervisors are in the trenches and are often the first ones to spot the early stages of a conflict. In fact, 30 to 40% of your managers’ daily activities are devoted to dealing with conflict of some sort. The problem is that many managers aren’t exactly sure what they need to do when they find themselves in these uncomfortable situations.

In order to keep your employees safe and happy and your organization productive and efficient, it’s crucial for you and them to understand how to manage and prevent workplace conflict. This is collaboration at work.

 We all should take a step back and take a look at ourselves first and work on becoming exactly what we are united to achieve in our workplace in our own behaviors as staff and as supervisors and leads.

If you can do that, there’s no telling what your organization, department, unit, division, or staff can achieve!





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