What’s Killing Collaboration? It’s Not What You Think.

First, why is collaboration important? Leaders and organizations have been pushing the goal for collaboration for decades. Sometimes with great urgency and enthusiasm but too often without a real plan for how to make it happen. Through no fault of their own. Motivation for collaboration has been both a desire for something that just sounds better to an essential part of getting work done. Today’s work in almost any industry requires high order thinking, where decisions need to be made that appreciate multiple perspectives and changing dynamics. 

Yet despite the increasing need for collaborative work culture, we are failing more often than succeeding. And to be fair to the workplaces this is not just a business issue it is a society culture issue. For us much amazing collaboration that I witness around the world with people coming together for a common purpose there appears to be equal amounts of conflict between humans that want to push their agenda at the cost of others.

“Let’s build bridges not walls.”

— Martin Luther King, JR

Martin Luther King, JR, once said “Let’s build bridges not walls”. But bridges do not just magically appear one day. They take work. They require knowledge of the environment where you need to build the bridge. What exists on both sides that must be understood before we can start building? Where will there be a common place to meet? Where will weak points exist that need more fortification? 

The good news is we have seen huge leaps in technology that enable greater collaboration. And we have had the experiment of the pandemic to thoroughly test many of these tools to the point that most employees can quickly call bullshit when their organization suggests we are bringing you back into the office so that you can collaborate better. It’s not that “in-person” does not usually mean better collaboration it is just not an essential ingredient. So clearly, it’s not the thing that is killing lack of collaboration.

On the human side of the equation, we have also seen many advances in our knowledge about what it takes to create collaborative cultures. Words like psychological safety, emotional intelligence, trust, effective communication, leadership, and conflict management get raised quite a bit as key skills to enable collaboration. However, they are taught often in a vacuum as it relates to how you would apply in the real world with real humans. Most of us can describe the basics of each of these skills and yet we know that how we apply them will still often be “it depends” answer as it truly does vary based on scenarios and who you are working with.

Now we are getting closer to the answer of what is killing collaboration. Full collaboration potential is limited by either the lack of understanding or knowledge for how to apply Relationship Intelligence (RQ) as described by Elias H. Porter and Timothy J. Scudder in the Relationship Awareness Theory. Collaboration, by definition, is when two or more people are working together effectively in a relationship. If you are lucky, then every day you get a slight increase in your own self-awareness which certainly helps in your relationship with yourself. However, it is quite rare to also have a clear understanding of what motivates the people I am working with or what changes in our relationship based on when things are going well versus not well. We generally lack the RQ about our peers or leaders. And we certainly do not have a specific set of practices that tell us how to work with them more effectively.

Fortunately, there exists a way to slay this collaboration killer. It starts with the Strengths Development Inventory (SDI) 2.0 and the Core Strengths Platform. SDI 2.0 is unlike other individual personality assessments such as Strength Finder, Myers-Briggs and DISC in three critical ways. First, it focuses on you in your relationships at work. Second, it provides four interrelated views of a person versus a single assessment. Third, all the awareness that is provided from the SDI 2.0 is served up on a platform that is assessable from any device and provides rich content for how to apply this knowledge as you are building relationships, communicating, and addressing conflicts that inevitably arise. Let’s look at these three more closely. And if you are more visual or audio person then watch one or both 3-minute videos on Relationship Intelligence or the Core Strengths Platform.

SDI 2.0 provides single assessment that produces four interrelated views of a person:

1. Motivational Value System (MVS) – a personality type when things are going well. This could also be thought of as different sources of wellbeing. In SDI 2.0 there are three basic types also referred to as the 3P’s. Performance oriented or the desire for action and getting things done. People oriented or how well am I taking care of others. And process oriented or the desire for systematic order. However, this is based on when things are going well. How many times do you complete your day at work and think “wow – everything went so well today!”

2. Conflict Sequence – a personality type when experiencing conflict. The reality is each of us experience conflict every day. One of the most innovative contributions from SDI is the recognition that each person can experience three stages of conflict and how we experience them varies by person. In this case we are talking about the 3A’s – Accommodate, Assert or Analyze. You can see how these might align to the MVS however it is not a given that a person who is performance motivated will start off with an accommodating conflict style. Take me for example. My top motivation (if only by a hair) is performance. However, when I am in early-stage conflict I seek to accommodate before I assert. Understanding your own conflict sequence can be a huge game changer for people to mitigate potential conflict with others, particularly those who are motivated differently than me. Having a better understanding of my colleagues’ conflict sequence and the reasoning behind their perspectives is revolutionary.

3. Strengths Portrait – a ranking of productive strengths used at work. Strength assessments became popular in the 90’s when organizations began to pivot from “fixing employees” to helping them amplify their strengths. However, many of these strength assessment tools are not applied in a work context. Yes, we want to leverage our strengths and use them more and they need to be done in conjunction with my work colleagues. If as a team we tend to all lean on the same strengths for getting work done and those tend to be more performance oriented, then we need to find ways as a team to build upon other strengths (which we also have) that bring in more process and people. Further it is helpful to know what our reasons are for why we would use any strength. This is particularly helpful when finding the motivation to use some of those strengths I’m least likely to use. 

4. Overdone Strengths Portrait – a ranking of non-productive strengths used at work. This is one that I rarely see in other strengths assessments and yet it is the one that often shows up in conflict between people. A story works well here. My top over-done strength is “quick-to-act” also known as rash. For some people I have worked with in the past this would infuriate them. Sometimes my haste would shoot myself in the foot but in that circumstance I am just getting mad at myself and living with the consequences. But when others are involved, and particularly those who are triggered by “quick-to-act” will not appreciate that as a strength. However, if they understand my reasons for using this skill are tied to my feelings of wanting to match the situation with the urgency that I feel is present and so that people don’t have to wait on me then a sliver of compassion may come out. Fortunately, a sliver of empathy is all we need to start a conversation that will lead to collaboration.

So what’s killing collaboration?


Misunderstandings happen to the best of us. It’s hard being human much less figuring out all the other humans we must work with. It often can feel easier to work alone. Not bother to figure out how to effectively communicate with those who don’t think like you. Much less how to work through conflicts with them. But we are all wise enough to know that we do need others for solving many of the tough problems that exist and particularly we need others who bring different perspectives and experiences to the conversation so that we can have more creativity in that problem solving. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can find a way to make that not only easy but more enjoyable?

What will Relationship Intelligence give you? Overall, three things. Greater AWARENESS about yourself, others, yourself with others and others with you. Practical APPLICATION of how to use that knowledge in a work context. This combine with relationship and leadership COACHING can help your team be on the road to a truly collaborative organization.

Check out Bridge2Wellbeing Leadership Development programs that can provide your organization all of this. For individuals who would like to experience on their own there are Individual Coaching Programs as well. Reach out for a free demo of the assessment and digital platform. Low investment pilot options available for organizations to consider. 

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”

— Seth Godin, Tribes – We Need You to Lead Us


Porter EH. On the Development of Relationship Awareness Theory: A Personal Note. Group & Organization Studies. 1976; 1(3):302-309.

SCUDDER, T. J. Personality types in relationship awareness theory: The validation of freud’s libidinal types and explication of porter’s motivational typology. 2014.

Scudder, T. J. History and Development of the SDI 2.0, 2019. 

Scudder, T. J. and Patterson, M. L. Relationship Intelligence and the New Decade of Work, 2020.

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