What Summer Vacation Taught Me About Collaboration

This week I wondered what sea shells could teach me about collaboration. My husband, Todd Przybycien, and I just got back from a week’s vacation at the Outer Banks. We stayed at the Cypress House Inn in Kill Devil Hills run by Bill and Veda Peters, the consummate inn-keppers who know the area very well. I took a walk on the beach every morning before breakfast. I love walking on the beach because the sunrise is beautiful, the sound of the waves is soothing, the breeze is refreshing, and every wave brings something interesting to see on the shore for the curious. During my stay, I collected many beautiful shells including many different colors and patterns of scallop shells, baby’s ears, jingle shells, arks, cockles, wing oyster, razors, venuses, and clams.

Shells taught me about awe, form and function, and facilitation. There is a sense of awe and excitement when you find a shell on the shore: each shell is unique and beautiful in its own way. A shell’s form accommodates the shell’s function: the shell needs to grow in a way that accommodates the growth of the creature housed in the shell and the shell serves as protection. Facilitation is about how the right ingredients need to come together at the right time and in the right way in order to create the shell. There is also an important role for awe, form and function, and facilitation in collaboration.

Let’s start with awe. Finding sea shells on the sea shore makes me feel like a kid again. The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/science/13shells.html?_r=0) reports that there are tens of thousands of mollusks known to scientists and many more to discover. I collect shells that I find to be beautiful which makes them valuable to me. When something of beauty and value is created, there is excitement and appreciation. Awe in collaboration speaks to the importance of managing energy during a collaborative session. If the energy wanes, then nothing of high value will be created. Since the purpose of any good collaborative session is to pave the way to productive action, then high value must be created.

Next is form and function. A seashell is more than meets the eye. Nita Sahai explains that a seashell is a nano-composite with crystals on the order of nanometers bound to organic macromolecules and is part of the global cycle of important elements such as Silicon and Carbon (http://www.geology.wisc.edu/~sahai/Seashells.html). In addition, seashells have many functions beyond serving as a home to the mollusk. For example, shells can form limestone under the right conditions of pressure and temperature (http://www.livestrong.com/article/532928-calcium-carbonate-and-seashells/). Also, seashells have been a subject of biomimicry, the study of nature’s best ideas to develop new products for mankind. Researchers at McGill created a stronger glass as the result of biomimicry of seashells (http://earthsky.org/earth/new-glass-inspired-by-a-seashell). The McGill engineers describe their discovery as follows:

‘Several species of mollusks have shells that are lined with an inner, iridescent layer of nacre, which is also known as mother-of-pearl. The nacre layer consists of many hard plates of calcium carbonate that are cushioned by an organic matrix of proteins. While the organic matrix is weaker than the hard chalk-like plates, the organic matrix actually adds to the strength of shells through its ability to trap and prevent any cracks that form from spreading…. The engineers at McGill mimicked the crack-trapping properties of nacre by using a laser to engrave a wavy network of micro-cracks into small rectangles of glass. The micro-cracks were able to stop cracks from propagating through the glass. They then filled the cracks with polyurethane and found that the pieces of engraved glass were about 200 times stronger than non-engraved glass.’

Another example of biomimicry based on seashells is a research effort to develop new transparent armor for troops (http://www.livescience.com/44484-seashell-armor-for-troops.html). This research effort is described as follows:

‘To develop the novel armor, Ortiz and her colleague Ling Li investigated the windowpane oyster, Placuna placenta. They were especially interested in this mollusk, because it has a shell that permits 80 percent of visible light to shine through it….When the seashell was subjected to microscopic denting from a diamond-tipped probe, the scientists found the shell deformed via “twinning” — crystals of calcite that were mirror images of each other formed around the penetration zone. Such twinning helped dissipate energy and localize damage, by deflecting cracks from spreading farther, for instance….Ultimately, twinning, along with the shell’s nano-level structure, confined damage to a small volume and preserved the mechanical integrity of the rest of the structure. Armors based on this strategy of twinning and of nano-level structure could survive multiple hits, researchers said.’

Form and function applied to collaboration speaks to the importance of process (form) to achieve desired outcomes (function). The process and outcomes of collaboration are part of the branches and fruit of the values tree for collaboration (https://fulcrumconnection.com/blog/values-tree-collaboration/). Impressive form and function inspires additional work and innovation (e.g., biomimicry).

Finally there is facilitation. A 2006 Scientific American article describes how seashells are created (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-are-seashells-created/). Seashells are an exoskeleton of the mollusks they house. The cells that comprise the mantle tissue of the mollusk secrete proteins and minerals in order to form the shell. It is believed that different kinds of proteins are secreted at different times and places in the seashells to create different types of calcium carbonate crystals. Facilitation is about the right ingredients coming together in the right way so that something beautiful and valuable can be created. In collaboration, this speaks to the importance of the right ingredients and the right interaction of those ingredients. Specifically, ingredients for collaboration include the participants, the content, the sponsor, the process, the project lead, and the facilitator. Note that if the facilitator is also the project lead or sponsor, then this can limit the ability of the group to collaborate depending on the leadership style and facilitation skills of the leader. For example, Jarett H. Shalhoop defines four leadership styles based on a two-by-two matrix (http://www.hart.ro/assets/conferinta_mai_2013/Toxic_Leadership.pdf). The quadrant representing high concern for others and high concern for self is a leadership style called collaborative and is the one of the four styles of leadership that would support a collaborative session.

Collaboration harnesses the power of human connection to tackle any challenge. To learn more about how to get the right combination of awe, form and function, and facilitation for your collaboration needs, contact Valerie at 412-742-9675 or valerie.patrick@fulcrumconnection.com.