Collaboration and the myth of the polder

The Dutch are people with a consensus culture. This seems to go back to the middle ages: a large portion of our country is located below sea level, the so called polders. To stay dry in a polder, our ancestors always had to reach consensus with their neighbours about where and how to build the dykes.

Today we are still very much consensus driven. However, some people confuse this with being good at collaborating. This is why you might hear some Dutch people say that we are good collaborators, because we had to build the dykes together to keep our feet dry. Maybe this is true about the past: the Netherlands had a smaller population where most people were directly affected and involved with the need to survive the water. Nowadays, with a large population of nearly 17 million people in our small country, not that many people are involved with the activities around keeping our country safe from the water.

So, time to forget the myth of the polder. It is something of the past that indeed influenced our present, but it doesn’t necessarily make us better collaborators today. When working with people around the world, I rarely meet people who can actually tell me where they learned how to collaborate. Only people with an army background will tell me that during their army training, sufficient amount of time was spent on learning to collaborate and to blindly trust their teammates. Not such a strange part of their training, when you realize that collaboration on the battlefield can make the difference between life and death.

Most of the times when I see collaboration go sour, it is because of self centered behaviour among the people who need to collaborate. This is equally true for collaboration in in-company teams as well as in teams that are formed across organizations. Within this self centered behavior, ego comes in play and people are focused on “what’s in it for me” instead of “what’s in it for we”. Collaboration asks us to work together and thus focus on the collective results instead of self centered benefits.

Sometimes people are simply not aware of their behavior and sometimes you can’t blame them for that. After all, it is something they never learned. As long as they are willing to change, they can benefit from working with a coach to improve their collaborative behavior. Coaching comes in many flavors and can have its focus on your personal collaborative behavior, the effectiveness of your team and also on specific collaborative areas as working together in strategic alliances.

When you do plan to work with a coach, challenge yourself first on your willingness to change. Then make sure that you select a coach who has the right focus area for your specific challenge and with whom you feel a personal fit.

To your collaborative success!

PS: The importance of “what’s in it for we” is described in Jeanette Nyden’s book “Getting to We” *


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