It Takes 2 to Tango – Stepping to the Dance of Collaboration

Guest blogger Nancy V Goodyear discusses the keys to forming great collaborative projects, and what the Argentine Tango can teach us about creating together.

Collaboration is the act of working with another person on a shared project. That project might be large and on-going, such as a long-term work project, a business venture or even creating a life together. Or, it could be something small and short-term, such as writing an article together or even cooking a meal together.

But Collaboration is not just the act of working together on a project, but a way of working together. The intention you hold as you collaborate is what makes the biggest difference in how well the collaboration turns out.

The best collaborations I have been involved in have been those:

  • Where there has been a shared stake (or vision) for what it is we want to achieve;
  • Where the end product was only loosely defined at the start (e.g. a course, a workshop, etc.). This gave us space and freedom in which to explore and create together.

I’d like to share examples from two collaborative projects that have taught me these lessons. Then, we’ll look at what they had in common so we can understand more deeply the keys to creating great collaborations.

Collaboration and the Argentine Tango

When I did CTI’s Co-Active Leadership Programme in 2007-2008, we were given the brief of designing and delivering a day-long workshop with a fellow participant, using the coactive style of working. That was it, those were the only parameters we were given. I worked with a guy from South Africa.

My co-active partner and I started by finding the common ground between us: what we were both passionate about (dancing) and what we both wanted for our participants (connection with their husband, wife or partner). These two things gave us the foundation for the Tango-based, connection workshop we finally delivered in Johannesburg. We steered ourselves away from using flipcharts and lecturing our participants and instead focussed on exercises that would help them fully experience connection within their relationship (and with the other people on the course) and explore what I believe to be at the heart of collaboration:

That what I create will look very different to what you create,
and that both of those will look different
from what we create together.

We asked the participants to present something to the group that represented the creativity in the shared project and energy of their relationship. The results were beyond what either of us could possibly have thought up on our own. We had skits showing how their life together looked; we had the peace and tranquillity of being led in some Tai Chi; we were invited to slow dance to a romantic song.

And that’s when I learned that the secret to collaboration really is, ‘It takes (at least) two to tango.’ In this case, our collaboration was not merely a dance between my co-leader and me, but also between both of us and our participants.

Co-Creating the 7 Graces Project Course

Of course, collaborations can involve more than two people. My most recent collaboration has been designing and delivering the pilot course for the 7 Graces Project CIC with Lynn Serafinn and Kate Griffiths. Collaboration is the last of the 7 Graces of Marketing and grows out of the other 6 Graces. I think I speak for all of us when I say we are really learning ABOUT the Grace of Collaboration as we work together to create this course.

Lynn, Kate and I started with the Inspiration that came out of the 7 Graces conference in June 2012. Our vision was to develop the 7 Graces paradigm of marketing and bring it to a wider audience, but that was about all. Since then, through a lot of discussion and trial and error, this kernel of an idea has evolved into a full-blown course that we are currently testing with a pilot group.

Over the past year, we have developed a wonderful Connection as a team. We extended Invitations to other people who joined our team for a while, shared their wisdom and experience with us before moving on. We have learned to practice Directness and Transparency with each other, working through differences of opinion. And we have had an Abundance of insights, stuck places, laughter, tears, ideas and experiences that have shaped the course–and us. All of these graces make up the often challenging (but ultimately rewarding) nature of Collaboration.

In my experience, it is the space and freedom that comes from allowing the end product to emerge over time rather than setting out with the fixed idea that you are going to create say, ‘a course that looks like this’ that creates the optimum conditions for a rich and innovative collaboration. Because we started out with a fairly vague notion of what we were creating, we were not restricting ourselves within the lines of a rigid ‘project plan’. This freed us up to allow the course to emerge as it needed to.

And trust me when I say that the end product hasn’t always looked like what we are currently piloting. We talked about the course being aimed at young people, ex-offenders or corporates. We discussed it being ‘a business incubator’ and bringing in a corporate social responsibility component (CSR). We started out thinking the course would be delivered face-to-face. Finally, the course took its current shape: an 18-week, real-time, online course specifically about ethical marketing designed for independent business owners.

The truth is, creating this course hasn’t been a 3-person collaboration. There was a 4th collaborator involved: the idea itself. Only because we stayed unattached to the outcome were we able to permit the idea to exert its own will and influence the final product.

How Collaboration is Like a Tango

From these experiences, I’ve extracted 5 key ingredients that go into both a great Tango and a great collaboration.

In the Argentine Tango:

  1. Both dancers support and are supported in equal measure. They incline their bodies towards each other so they are practically leaning on each other; neither of them would stay standing if their partner wasn’t there!
  2. You have to be so attuned to your partner that your bodies move as one entity. One person initiates the movement and the other responds, so you’re never quite sure who is leading and who is following.
  3. You have to work together and not fight each other’s movements. Otherwise, you end up treading on each other’s toes and tripping each other up
  4. You do not dance solo. You work together and embellish what your partner does. It’s not about the individuals; it’s about the dance.
  5. There is no room for thinking. As soon as you start to think about where your feet are and where you want your partner to go (or where you partner wants you to go) it all goes horribly wrong.

And so it is also for the Grace of Collaboration:

  1. You must support and be supported in equal measure, knowing that the collaboration wouldn’t be what it is without any one of you.
  2. You need a common vision (or stake) of what the collaboration is FOR. You all need to agree on this and be inspired by it because that is your one guide through the collaboration process. If you get stuck or lose your way or start to disagree, you can come back to your shared vision and check whether you are still honouring that vision. If your collaboration is about the vision then it can’t be about ego and everyone can lead and follow as the situation requires in any given moment, passing backwards and forwards according to who has the initiative or the inspiration.
  3. You must work together for the sake of your shared vision. That is more important than any individual member of the partnership. It is, after all, why you have come together to create something new and wonderful. If you start fighting and competing for ownership of the vision or of the project or for credit for having the best idea then you will start treading on toes and tripping yourselves up – ultimately derailing your collaboration.
  4. You do not dance solo. There is no room for one person to take complete control of the project. There is no room for ego. All partners are equal. One person has a great idea (or even a not-so-great idea) and everyone works together to embellish that idea until, together, you create something beautiful and inspirational that is an equal part of all of you.
  5. You cannot OVER THINK! Of course you must think, but if it starts to feel like hard work, or you try to force your project into an identifiable, concrete form too soon, you will become too conscious of what you are doing instead of dancing in the moment. This is when it can all go horribly wrong, either falling apart or stopping being the source of fun and deep satisfaction it was when you first started.

Closing Thoughts

I believe collaboration is more than the sum of its parts. It taps reserves of creativity and innovation that none of us have individually and, as a result, allows us to create things we simply could not create on our own.

For that reason, collaboration is my favourite way of working. If we follow these principles of collaboration in all aspects of our life, from work to family and friendships, just imagine the rich, deep creativity that will result. New and exciting business projects that we cannot yet imagine, relationships based on dancing together avoiding competition and creating possibilities that are the best of both of you and more!

I’d love to hear about your own experiences (and dances) with the Grace of Collaboration. Please do share your comments below.

~Nancy V Goodyear
11th June 2013

_DSC0495Nancy V Goodyear is business mentor & life coach who loves to help social entrepreneurs and small business owners get focused and organised. With a BA (Hons) in Learning Disability Nursing, she has extensive professional experience working in health & social care within the non-profit sector. She is fluent in French, having lived in France for some time, and is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute and the Co-Active Leadership programme. Nancy is also Co-Director of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a non-profit social enterprise that provides training and mentorship in ethical marketing to independent business owners, social entrepreneurs and change-making corporates. She works closely with 7 Graces Founder Lynn Serafinn to develop training and consultancy packages for business owners seeking to build and develop their marketing platform ethically. Her over-riding aim in all her work is to help others reconnect to who they and to their business.

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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4 Responses to It Takes 2 to Tango – Stepping to the Dance of Collaboration

  1. I am very sensitive to this article Nancy because I learned and adore the Argentian Tango. It’s more than a dance but a state of being. Interestingly, my life partner is not a natural Tango dancer because he doesn’t have the ‘tension’ it requires to move that single entity. I need to work on him some more 🙂
    I also love the idea of an evolving project… Having changed mine about 3 times already over the last 2 years, I thought I was a chronic scanner. I feel normal again 🙂
    Excellent stuff!

    • As I look back at the evolution of the 7 Graces Project, Jenni, I am amazed at how it has woven into so many different shapes until it finally settled into a space it was always “meant” to have. And what’s funny about that, is that it is the easiest and most natural form of itself it could possibly be. One of the defining qualities of Collaboration is EASE. It’s really funny how much effort even we put into things until we realised it didn’t need to be as hard as we were making it. So many lessons.

  2. Pingback: It Takes 2 to Tango Stepping to the Dance of Collaboration | The 7 Graces of Marketing - ethical marketing for social entrepreneurs - Christi Krug

  3. Pingback: The Power of Collaboration » ROUSE | PORTLAND CREATIVE COLLECTIVE

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