Project Management

Of Collaboration and Conflict

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

We are social beings. It’s innate to our DNA. It is, arguably, how we got this far as a species. Our ability to establish trust is what enabled us to develop in social communities. The evolved portion of our brain—the cerebral cortex that makes us unique as a species—provides the essential tools required for perceiving the world, abstract reasoning and communicating. All of those wonderful, awesome, essential capabilities that allow us to engage in complex discussion, debate and discourse. We are, quite literally, wired to interact.

So why is it so painful to collaborate in real life?

In theory, collaboration is not just something for which we are innately hard-wired, it’s also something that allows us to be more effective and more productive. Leveraging the insight and expertise of the many is viewed as more advantageous than the smartest of individuals working in isolation. We are able to draw on divergent insights, understanding, experience and knowledge. Different personalities and preferences, and different strengths and contributions, means that we should be able to produce more innovative and effective results.

The problem is that for the most part, it doesn’t actually work this way. By measures of creativity, for example, brainstorming exercises have long been thought to be more effective (in terms of the quality of results) and …

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"The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter."

- Mark Twain