Constrained Collaboration Can Derail Conference Improvement


Collaboration – it’s one of the buzzwords of business today.

Collaboration is when people work together to achieve a goal. Multiple individuals from different departments work together to accomplish a task or project.

Evan Rosen in his book The Culture of Collaboration says “[Collaboration is] working together to create value while sharing virtual and physical space.” Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman, sarcastically and succinctly said that the average 45 year old thinks collaboration is teams sitting down, having a nice conversation with nice objectives and a nice attitude. Yet in many cases collaboration is far from Schmidt’s description.

Sour Collaboration

As author Indi Young points out, collaboration can become constrained. In those cases, constrained collaboration becomes the nemesis of your conference improvement.

Without a specific collaboration structure and process, different perspectives can hinder collaboration.

Consider the various departments that are involved in planning a conference: customer/membership, education, finance, marketing, meetings, partner/sponsor development, sales, technology and others. Each of these departments measure, review and describe the various components of the same conference data differently. This leads to a variety of interpretations. This diversity of interpretations leads to confusion.

For example, the marketing team wants everyone to make decisions based on email open rates and their own customer marketing segments. The IT department was to pursue web features that support their analysis. The customer/membership department wants decisions based on all of their customer types. The partnership/sponsorship department wants decisions based on what’s in the best interest of their highest paying sponsors.

As you can see, this collaboration can lead to confusion, defensiveness and political posturing. Everyone’s too busy explaining why and how their perspective is the best.

Collaboration becomes a struggle as each team member only focuses on the efforts directly related to the things they do for the organization. The customer gets lost in the entire process.

This is where collaboration derails the conference improvement process.

Adopting Empathy And Skilled Listening

As a conference organizer, you need to develop an empathy strategy for your collaborative efforts. You’ve got to spend time listening to each person on your collaboration team to understand them, what drives their decisions, and what’s important to them and their department.

You’ve got to become a skilled listener. This is far-removed from being a skilled logistician.

You’ve also got to understand the difference between developing and applying empathy. And how empathy hooks into your conference development and collaboration process.

Empathy is a noun says Young. It is a thing. Empathy is an understanding you develop about another person.

Empathizing is the use of that understanding. It is an action.

People think empathy is to walk in another’s shoes. This is not what empathy is about says Young. That’s empathizing.

When dealing with conference collaboration teams, the conference organizer must build empathy for each team member. They’ve got to take time to discover the deep thoughts and feelings that make each person tick. It is intentionally setting out to discover and comprehend another person’s cognitive and emotional state. Then that understanding gives you the ability to try on that person’s perspective.

Too often, collaborative team members try to take someone else’s perspective without first taking the time to develop an understanding of what makes them tick. You can’t apply empathy until you’ve developed an understanding and appreciation of that person’s wants and needs.

It all starts with listening.

Once you as a conference organizer have deeply listened, understood, applied and modeled empathy to your collaboration team, can you then begin to apply listening and empathy to your target conference customer. That’s where the real collaborative conference improvement begins.

Hat Tips Practical Empathy by Indi Young.

What are some practical tips you can use to implement empathic listening? Why is listening to your conference collaboration team so important to your conference success?

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1 comment
  1. Brian says:

    Developing an active sense of empathy in team settings can vary greatly from empathy in the conventional sense– an ability to collaborate effectively definitely takes practice.

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