Groupwork Centre Blog

What’s teen sex got to do with it?

Collaboration, says the meme, is a bit like teenage sex:

“Everyone is talking about it. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing it. Those who are doing it, aren’t doing it very well. Despite that, everyone says how good it feels.”

Spot on!

It’s funny (and, let’s be honest, salacious) to think about collaboration in this way, but the analogy is useful. It’s surprising how many similarities we find when we dig a little deeper.

Off the top of my head, I came up with four: consent, fear of the unknown, communication skills and conflict.

1. Consent
Are you seriously trying to use your power over me to get your way? Fuck off.

2. Fear of the unknown
I have no idea what I’m supposed to do, but I can’t let you know that. So we fumble and stumble instead.

3. Communication skills
This feels tricky but I don’t know how to broach that. So I suffer in silence.

4. Conflict
Ummm … No, I’m not ready for that … Push back.
Stop! Push back.
Tears. Dialogue. Reflection. Agreement.
Then … make-up sex!

Something that makes us feel good, that has social cache and that, done well, has clear benefits for all, is hard to ignore. So, collaboration joins parenting, friendship, love – and sex – as a desirable and beneficial activity.

These things come naturally, up to a point, and then we meet resistance (we always do at some stage) and we get stuck. Up to our necks in thick icky custard without the skills or understanding to move through the sticky mass.

When I worked in higher education, consistent feedback we received from employers was they loved how smart our graduates were. But the same students were often clueless when it came to working in a team environment.

That’s the thing: knowledge and technocratic skills are immensely helpful, but we have to be able to apply them. We have to integrate our ideas and expertise into a project as we work alongside others, hearing their feedback, taking on board their input and adjusting our own contribution to dovetail with the greater good as we go.

These skills can be learned. And they can be practised. This is what we do in workshops and training sessions focusing on collaboration. We haven’t ventured into sex education. But we do say “Values for Work, Skills for Life.”

Collaboration is like sex. It gets easier, and better, the more you do it.

Click here to find out about our Collaboration Leadership Course

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