Common ground for effective collaboration

May 17, 2023 | Mirta Fagundes dos Santos

Frustrated millennial female worker holding her head while her coworkers argue. Issues with collaboration.

When my son was eight, he was diagnosed with Auditory Processing disorder.

The condition meant that there would be a disconnect between the time a sound (a word or a sentence) entered his ear and reached his brain. Sounds would get scrambled, and the word or sentence he heard would not always be the same as what he understood.

During one of the therapy sessions, my son was in a room with another little boy receiving treatment for the same issue. The little boy asked my son if they should play with Lego. My son said there was no ladder to play with, and the little boy responded that it was okay if he wanted to play later. It was as if they were playing Chinese Whispers, only they weren’t.

Why am I telling you about my son?

Misunderstandings happen

When individuals don’t have any impediments to hearing or auditory processing, we don’t expect any misunderstandings to happen. But they do happen. Every day there are teams that work together yet make no progress on their shared goals. There are teams that get frustrated with one another, disagree, and call it quits on collaboration.

Why is this?

A study published in the “Human Communication Research” journal found that people misunderstand each other in 70% of conversations.

The Tower of Babel

The story of the Tower of Babel illustrates this point perfectly. The people of Babel attempted to build a tower to reach the heavens. However, they spoke different languages, which led to confusion and poor collaboration. As a result, their efforts were in vain, and the tower was never completed.

The story is a perfect metaphor for what happens when individuals who don’t understand one another work together. In the story, the people of Babel speak different languages, but the spoken language is not the only language we need to have in common to understand one another.

Just because we speak the same language, doesn’t mean we speak the same ‘language’

People from different backgrounds and experiences have different perspectives. When it comes to working together to solve a shared problem, unless they have a common framework for understanding it and agree on the problem, they will inevitably all be pulling in different directions and pushing different solutions.

Without shared frameworks and concepts for effective collaboration, we will always struggle to achieve shared goals, even if we all speak fluent English.

Our BBIT courses teach a thinking framework that teams can learn together and use to get on the same page and collaborate effectively.