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Collaborating to lead

Collaborative leadership workshop series debuts

By Gayla Marty

Howard Gadlin
Howard Gadlin, an expert in conflict resolution at the National Institutes of Health, led two workshops to inaugurate the U's new Collaborative Leadership Development Series Feb. 4-5.

From Brief, March 12, 2008

The young principal investigator wanted a press conference to announce promising lab results that supported earlier data. Her center director felt it was far too early for that.

"If you go ahead, I'll report you," the director finally threatened. "Look, I know you really want to be on Oprah..."

"This is not about Oprah!" the PI replied. "This is about wanting to make a name for us. This is a golden opportunity, and you're wasting it!"

The exchange wasn't real--it was a case study and role-playing exercise led by Howard Gadlin, who has helped to resolve many conflicts in his role as director of the Office for Cooperative Resolution at the National Institutes of Health.

Last month, Gadlin brought his knowledge and inspiration to the University of Minnesota to kick off a new series of workshops on Collaborative Leadership Development. Conflict was the topic Feb. 4 and team-building Feb. 5. Each workshop was attended by about 75 people on the Twin Cities campus and about 20 connected by interactive TV on the Duluth campus.


Register now for the next Collaborative Leadership Development workshop, "Mentoring in Collaborative Contexts," March 25, 3-5 p.m., to be held at McNamara Alumni Center on the Twin Cities campus and broadcast by ITV to the library on the Duluth campus. A workshop on grant writing is scheduled for April 30. See workshop information.

Gadlin emphasized that conflict occurs normally as a routine aspect of intellectual inquiry and group work. It's natural in any complex network of individuals trying to work together from different perspectives.

"The time to establish a conflict resolution mechanism is when you're still 'in love,'" Gadlin said. "You want conflicts to be able to surface [and] come out. If you establish a framework from the beginning, then conflict is not a problem--it enriches the power of the collaboration."

To develop your ability to work in or lead a collaboration, Gadlin advocated curiosity--an attitude that good academics already have--as a foundation for work that can be extended to understanding one another.

"When you hear something that upsets you or angers you, when you are in the middle of a dispute with someone else, the stance you want to take is not to rebut, not to debate, not to fight back, but to become curious," he said. "The angrier you become, or the more something upsets you, the more curious you should become."

If it's touched something in you, Gadlin said, allow it to lead you to ask questions before you react.

"You want clarity, and then you want to understand why the person night be holding that position," he said.

What it takes to lead a team

The second day's workshop turned from managing conflict to building successful collaborative teams--what Gadlin sees as part of a larger social trend. He presented the results of a survey of research on collaborations.

"Looking at collaborations is like looking at relationships," Gadlin said. "There's no right way to do a collaboration, but there are certain kinds of issues that successful collaborations can address."


View these two workshops online.

"Conflict Resolution: Building a Bridge Over Trouble Waters"

"Building and Leading Collaborative Teams"

Examples came from a panel of four faculty members with experience in collaborative roles--Linda Lindeke, nursing; Ray Newman, fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology; J. B. Shank, history; and Deborah Swackhamer, environmental health sciences.

"I'm in health care, so your life and mine depend on collaboration, on teamwork, on transparency, and particularly on intentional process," said Lindeke, a nursing professor who's currently on five collaborative teams. "We've had a great deal of focus in health care on safety, so teamwork has been in the spotlight," she said, particularly regarding the success of interprofessional teams.

Many ideas applied in health care recently come from the airline industry, Lindeke said, an example of how principles from other perspectives can inform research, collaborations, and centers.

Shank described the challenges of working in the humanities as part of the seven-year-old Theorizing Early Modern Studies Research Collaborative (TEMS), which cuts across multiple disciplines.

"TEMS provides an alternative to what is otherwise the situation-normal of a university community, which is to provide 'disciplinized' knowledge," said Shank. "Part of that means breaking the model of single authorship and individual work in the humanities and moving toward the model of what's happening in the sciences.

"We're successful in part because we try extremely hard to be not successful according to the standards of success that are out there," Shank continued. "We have joint ownership, collective responsibility, and cultivate differences....We are trying to imagine an alternative university."

Next steps: mentoring and grant writing for collaborations

The new series responds to a need identified during strategic planning and corresponds to the rising number of interdisciplinary initiatives, team, centers, and institutes--at the University and in higher education around the world. At the same time, individualistic styles of leadership still dominate. Senior leadership called for new ways to prepare those participating in major research, education, and training initiatives to build their skills in a new style of leadership: collaborative.

"Very few graduate and professional programs directly teach the skills needed to work effectively on teams or in collaborative settings, which are fast becoming the norm for interdisciplinary initiatives," says vice provost and Graduate School dean Gail Dubrow. "This series aims to fill the gap."

Judging from the response to the first two workshops, the University is on the right track.

The next topics in the series will be mentoring in collaborative contexts, March 25, and grant-writing for interdisciplinary research, April 30. (See sidebar above.)

The Collaborative Leadership Development Series is cosponsored by the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Graduate School's Office of Interdisciplinary Initiatives, which plays a leading role in organizing the series. The Office of Human Resources is also an important contributor.

Gayla Marty is the director of communication for the Graduate School.