In a recent post, I asserted that passion is necessary for applied collaboration at its best. Passion is part of the fuel and spirit of good collaboration, one of the reasons that applied collaboration can render such valuable results. Handled correctly, people’s passions—about a new idea, a new direction, or a new way of doing things—can be a positive force, providing energy and momentum, attracting energy and interest, and driving commitment. But like any volatile substance, passions must be handled deliberately, and with care.  Mishandling this fuel can result in nasty conflagrations, and someone may get burned. So the question is, how do you allow for, even encourage, the passion in the room when you are engaged in applied collaboration so that the fuel you burn propels you forward instead of blowing up in your face?

First, You Need a Process

Applied collaboration is best realized in the context of a rigorous process adhered to with discipline. This may seem counterintuitive. To some, collaboration may conjure an idea of organic, fluid give and take. But good collaboration is like good improvisation. Even though it looks freewheeling and spontaneous, to do it well, you need structure and form, and a set of rules.

A rigorous collaboration process, administered by objective facilitators, enables any group, regardless of experience, to collaborate effectively even when passions are running high. By doing things like providing strict time limits for activities, intentionally mixing and managing the make-up of work groups, and consistently and intentionally directing the focus of the group to productive activities, you prevent people’s passions from becoming a flashpoint and overwhelming the group.

You Must Give Permission for the Passion

A rigorous process provides a flexible framework that helps contain the passion, and it also effectively gives permission and space for the passion in the collaboration. Knowing you can manage the intensity of people who are passionate about their ideas allows you to let that intensity drive the group without significant risk to your outcomes. You provide the permission and the space, and by virtue of a solid process and skilled facilitation you also establish and hold boundaries. And an objective third party, unencumbered by politics and biases, can hold those boundaries most effectively.

Give the Opportunity to Advocate for Ideas

One of the conditions that can make passion turn against a group’s process is when those who are passionate about an idea feel they aren’t being listened to or taken seriously. A critical part of the collaboration process is providing those who are passionate about their ideas multiple, controlled opportunities to communicate their ideas and express why they are passionate about them. They must be given the opportunity to present the merits of their ideas. They must be able to make their case, and they must be heard (and know they’ve been heard). It is only then that they can begin to be objective about their ideas.

Put Ideas Together, Test and Evaluate

Ideas must be tested and evaluated. A rigorous collaboration process must allow for the best ideas to be buoyed by their merits, and not artificially kept above water by some ego-inflated idea life vest. Participants must be prepared (both emotionally and in terms of the tools they are given and context in which they are using them) to judge their ideas—against all others—on their merits.

Create the Impetus to Let Go

An effective and rigorous collaboration process must help make the merits of the best ideas evident to the largest percent of the participant group. It then must provide an opportunity for rallying around those ideas. Participants must be committed to a shared creation of the best outcomes, and therefore, must be prepared to let go of their own ideas if they don’t measure up. And in some cases, participants must relinquish control of their ideas and allow them to morph and be improved by combining with other good ideas. Only then do you get to see the power of “recombinant ideation.”

Handled deliberately, and with care, passion is a powerful component of applied collaboration.