Book Review: Collaborating with the Enemy

Collaborating with the Enemy. A catchy title for a book, but how many project managers would think of picking it up from the title? I mean, no one wants to admit that you are working with someone who might not want to collaborate. And you definitely don’t want to think that they might view you as the enemy. We’re supposed to be ‘collaborating’.

Adam Kahane lets us off the hook on what we ‘should be doing’. A little. He reminds us that ‘collaboration’ is not as simple as we think. In Collaborating with the Enemy, his 2017 book, he explains that some problems are too complex for conventional collaboration. For him, conventional collaboration may work in a situation where we have control over the focus, the goal, the plan and what each person must do to reach the goal.

Early in the book, he writes of facilitating a meeting where he could see himself “enemyfying” the people he was working with and things went downhill from there. If you are a PM, you may have been in similar meetings: Why won’t ‘So-and-so’ give me X or tell me Y? And we build up the enemy storyline in our mind.

We Have Met The Enemy…
The conflict isn’t the problem. Our enemyfying is. Kahane writes that when others become the ‘enemy’, it “amplifies conflict; it narrows the space for problem solving and creativity; and it distracts us…from the real work we need to do.”

He reminds us that we will probably work with people who not only have different perspectives on an issue, but may even have different reasons for resolving the issue in the first place.

The Way Forward
Kahane says that “Stretch Collaboration” may offer a way forward “without being in control.” It was at this point I started to feel a weird sense of deja vu. In the same weirdling way that Truth shows up in multiple places, I started to hear Agile.

He then explained that Stretch Collaboration has three dimensions.

  • How We Relate to People with whom we are collaborating – our team.
  • How We advance the work of the team, and
  • How We participate – What Role We Play in the situation we are trying to address

I am not going to go into depth here. He does a marvelous job of explaining the three dimensions in the book (which you need to read). If I didn’t mention it before, he knows of what he writes. He has years of experience and was a part of the collaborative project Destino Colombia that helped start discussions of peace between the FARC and the Colombia government.

The challenge of collaboration, he writes: “is that in order to make our way forward, we must work with others, including people we don’t agree with or like or trust, while in order to avoid treacherery, we must not work with them.”

Life does not give us neon signs identifying the trustworthy or the treacherous, but Kahane gives us a path to find a way forward. I recommend you read this book to learn more.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is @jgodfrey.






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