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Agile 2015 Closing Keynote - Want Better Collaboration? Don’t be so Defensive

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James (Jim) Tamm, author of the book Radical Collaboration, gave the closing keynote at the recent Agile 2015 conference.  

Jim’s bio says

For most of his career, Jim was a Senior Administrative Law Judge for the State of California. He had jurisdiction over public sector disputes in the workplace. He mediated over 1,500 labor disputes, including more school district labor strikes than any other person in the United States. For several years he was a member of a collaboration special task force. They designed and taught collaboration skills to highly conflicted public sector organizations. The project was wildly successful. It helped build trust, reduce conflict and create more collaborative working environments.

His talk was titled “Want Better Collaboration – don’t be so defensive”.  It started with a discussion of research done on chickens and looked at the differences between collaborative and non-collaborative groups of chickens.  In non-collaborative groups of chickens the star performers become the stars by suppressing the egg production of other chickens – they look better because they cause others to be less effective.  He related that to many organisational environments and the behaviour of star performers in companies.

The research found that the differences between the collaborative and non-collaborative groups of chickens were vast – collaborative chickens produced 260% more eggs over a year.

He identified key characteristics of the two groups and labelled them Red Zone and Green Zone.  He then showed how these same characteristics are found in groups of people, especially in a corporate setting.

Red Zone Green Zone Characteristicts

He discussed the impact that red-zone (adversarial) and green-zone (collaborative) behaviours have on outcomes for organisations. He cited research which showed that organisations which have green-zone management approaches are much more successful:

  • Nett income improved by 755%
  • Stock price growth of 826%
  • Revenue growth of 516%
  • Workforce growth of 246%

He then related his experience as a judge involved in mediating conflict in school districts and how so often the two groups involved in a dispute fell into red-zone behaviours.  He worked with a number of people to form a non-profit focused on teaching green-zone skills to school district stakeholders and they saw massive reduction in court cases, better outcomes for the communities involved and more collaboration across the board.

He then challenged the audience to explore for themselves their red-zone reactions and presented techniques for consciously moving from red-zone to green-zone thinking.

He pointed out the five essential skills for building collaborative environments and relationships:

  1. Collaborative intention
  2. Truthfulness
  3. Self-accountability
  4. Self-awareness
  5. Negotiating and problem solving

He stated that the factor which pushes people into the red zone is defensiveness and that managing our own defensiveness is the most important skill to help create collaborative environments and relationships.

His key premise about defensiveness is that:

Defensiveness does not protect us from other people,

it defends us from fears we don’t want to feel.

On the tables were cards which listed 50 signs of defensiveness which people may exhibit when feeling threatened.  He asked the participants to identify the ones which they exhibit and to then identify the top three things that push them into a defensive stance.

The card had a space for participants to write an action plan to help remind them of how to overcome the defensiveness and be open to collaboration when disagreeing with someone else.

He left the audience with homework

  1. Start noticing if you are in the Red Zone or the Green Zone
  2. Look for your Early Warning Signs
  3. Practice your Defensiveness Action Plan

 The talk was recorded and is available on the Agile Alliance Learning Center

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