We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness – Thich Nhat Hanh
Sharing power is an ongoing human dilemma that is rising to critical priority in this century because of increasing planetary, economic and social pressures beyond historical precedent. In his recent State of the Union address, U.S. President Obama called repeatedly for unity of purpose and cooperative practice to “win the future”. Listening to him triggered my ongoing questions about how we move a nation of individualists into successful, skillful collaboration with each other. My longtime curiosity about this has become my all-absorbing focus in both my research and professional practice.
My experience indicates that playing together helps us to explore and learn about sharing power, and I’ve made this the core of my approach to cultivating teams. Moving, artmaking and storytelling as a group and in pairs provides an opportunity to step out of competitive or emotionally laden life and work scenarios, and play with power. When we step back into our daily contexts, we can bring along insights and alternative patterns that seed and nurture more cooperative behaviors and relationships. After all, Daniel Goleman advises in his book Social Intelligence, “Nature [in the form of our primate social brain] tends to foster positive relationships” and “even among complete strangers, a moment of playfulness, even outright silliness, forms an instant resonance.” But, in the U.S., play (of this artful sort) is more often than not viewed as frivolous and merely entertaining, not a valid element in the formula for creating productive and successful leaders and contributors in the workplace.
“Play isn’t a character defect; it’s the builder of character, developing persistence, competence, mastery and social skills that take us beyond perceived limitations” (Joe Robinson in the Huffington Post). Two weeks ago in London, I led a group of consultants, artists and activists through a morning of following and leading, pausing occasionally to process and learn from their experiences. Collaboration emerges from the interplay between individual power and collective power. Grounded in confidence from knowledge of our inner authority, our power to choose and act, we are readied to face the uncertainty of interacting with the will and ideas of others. We test our expectations and limitations about group performance.
Many participants in this group, as in others I’ve led, commented on their enjoyment of finding an ease-filled active space between leading and following, where shared leadership emerged without strain or confusion. For some, it was an uncommon experience or one they desired to have more of. They expressed being tired of just leading or following, especially in their work. For others, it was their natural approach to life. Pouring the composite power of partners or the group into this space between, possibilities are seemingly infinite and innovation sparks. And did I mention it was Fun? Faces lit up, bodies were alive and the energy in the room was palpable. Out of playing with shared power, we can learn to reap the full harvest of inspiration, learning, creativity and healthy community needed to evolve sustainable organizations.
Know a team that wants to collaborate better and has the willingness and courage to Play with Power? Workshops and longer term consulting support available. Contact NikaQuirk@mac.com or 510-381-5350.