“Self-centred” strategies to facilitate collaboration in research groups

I am a little bit drained as a result of having to go through several learning curves some of which have been steep and “lonely” since I started to work on a new project at a new workplace in a new country. Therefore I decided to stop; stop and reflect on my thoughts and feelings about this “initiation” process. I have three other blog posts I’m working on but this seems to be the most pressing one to “blurt out”.

System innovation, if not reduced to new technologies and organisational models which will accommodate them, is closely related to the “self”. Self both as “collective self” of humanity and how it relates to whatever is not perceived as humanity but also as individual self which is essentially the most important “operational level” for intervention. Us academics, those who’re most abundant in quantity at least, don’t talk about “self” much, in fact we don’t talk about it ever. If we have a “voice”, it’s raised in the passive form in writing, or referred to as “we” even if “I” is the sole author.

I reject this “delegitimisation”. I am is I am (although at times and for poetical reasons “I is an other” too) and I do bring values, a worldview, a vision and a knowledge base into my work which is bound and limited by my intellectual depth. As I explicitly state in some of my online profiles, “I am a researcher with a change agenda”. On the other hand, I am not solely a researcher; I am also a person proudly “owning” other identity signifiers such as “photographer”, “facilitator”, “friend”, “wanna be potter”, etc. When I do work, it’s the work of my life; there’s a continuum of but not a seperation between the distinguishable signifiers of my identity, which is ever evolving, developing, transforming. When I “friend” someone (I use friend in the grammatically non-existing verb form) it is from a position of “I want to make this world a better place by my thoughts, feelings and actions”. When I research I operate from the exact same position. Techne and telos have never been mutually exclusive although treated increasingly as such throughout Western intellectual and technological development. If a day came in which I acted from a different values set in my personal life than I did in my professional life (boundaries of which are obscure but “forced upon” me) I wouldn’t be able to find reasons to continue the work I do; for me “the work” is a whole.

In this regard, I find the culture of academia and government especially excruciating as they enforce “politics” onto people that they don’t necessarily own themselves in rather disempowering ways. For example, I am being forced to “compete” against my colleagues so that when the day of promotion applications come, I can be the one who gets it, or, in the next round of funding my application is the “winner”. I find this to be a patriarchal model for acknowledging accomplishment; my feminine instincts know that collaboration is in fact more effective and beneficial for the whole community but especially for those “emergent” elements; i.e. children, young researchers, niche innovations, etc., which are essentially “the future”.

In order to address the challenge that is created by traditional, harshly competitive academic culture in a project that requires radical collaboration both academically but also with a wide spectrum of present -i.e. those who will make decisions and create new systems- and future -i.e. those who will be influenced by those decisions and created systems- stakeholders, I am trying to tap into my facilitation skills. Facilitation is all about helping groups to achieve their goals. The keyword here is “group”; for facilitation to work, there needs to be a “group”, even if in “draft” form; i.e. a willingness of individuals involved to become part of a “group”, to collaborate, to co-create. In trying to do so, I hit my head against walls of personalities and hierarchies that are all created in an old paradigm that we’re in fact trying to replace in “system innovation” in broadest sense. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental learnings of my facilitation training was that “facilitating self” before even attempting to facilitate others is essential for generating fruitful collaboration and designing powerful, generative conversations. A facilitator who’s not “present” to the group for this or that reason is an ineffective facilitator. What will I do to facilitate myself, i.e. to become and remain present to myself then?

Here’re some quick mid-course resolutions:

1. I will stay true to myself – I will protect my values regardless of what the systems I have to operate in impose upon me. This involves modelling the behaviour I’d like to see emerge in my research team: never compete, never social-poach, never blame, never scapegoat, help others achieve their individual goals and demonstrate how this can be done by holding “running a successful project” as a group purpose. I will always empathise and exercise compassion when I relate to members of my research team, my colleagues, and everyone else who participate in the project in some capacity;

2. I will question – Regardless of the hierarchies forced upon me I will question the integrity of behaviour demonstrated and validity of theoretical/methodological frameworks “imposed” by those who’re in power positions. In short, I will have no fear of being seen as “apolitical” at times and “loud” at others;

3. I will transform – I will remain open to challenges to the project, its epistemological/political/theoretical/methodological groundings as a means of carrying the project “forward” in intellectual depth as well as practical relevance;

4. I will mentor and seek for mentoring – I will keep on sharing my experiences, knowledge, insights with researchers/colleagues/peers without fear of losing “ownership”; I do not own anything I know or am capable of. I owe all my knowledge, skills as well as “unique” ideas to everyone else who intellectually “touched” me including my students. I will also keep on seeking mentoring in places that are available for me. I will not pretend that I know everything and can be anything. This will also help me being patient with and kind to myself.

In order to achieve these, here’re some practical things I will do:

1. I will design and facilitate processes to form, develop and perform a collaborative research team. I’ll be ever inviting but not forcing upon “participation”. I will seek for alternative structures, systems, platforms to achieve collaboration and will not assume validity of only one form. This will also enable me to learn and develop as a facilitator. I may assign for next level of my facilitation training; i.e. get into a one-to-one coaching contract with my trainers (I need to think about this more);

2. I will stop not expressing myself due to any kind of fear rising from “professional” worries including impostor syndrome and losing “intellectual property”. I will write in my blog more often as a way of sharing and interacting without furious editing of content. I will also publish academically all those papers waiting in my folder because they’re just not yet “perfect”. There’s a need for scholarly dialogue now more than ever.

3. I will exercise good communication skills; listen attentively and respond to every point. Just because majority of people have poor listening/conversational skills does not create an excuse for me to follow suit;

4. I will meditate and create opportunities to connect with nature despite access is not as readily available as it was in New Zealand. There’s nothing more grounding for me than interacting with the elements in their pure(st possible) form. I will also reflect on nature of “nature” and what it means in regards to “system innovation”. I will change my views if any refreshing insight emerges. I will actively try to hold conversations about this.

5. I will reengage with photography or find another creative outlet which feels right to shift from my mind to my whole body; best is if I make something with my hands and find “flow” in such engagement. Mind is an important asset for a researcher, nevertheless, is also a trap for the spirit.

6. I will put more effort in developing my social circle in Melbourne. I will “set myself on fire and find those who fan my flames”. People are crucial for intellectual and creative development but also for “feeling at home”.

7. I will also put more effort in maintaining and developing my international research network. I will try to collaborate with those whose work influence mine.

8. I will know who to let to go of and when to let go. Not all seeds will flower and sometimes a rock drowns all “potential” of a seed. I will accept when I fail and I’ll try to “fail better” next time. 🙂

9. I will bring “lightness” into my interactions and I will not take myself too seriously.