Tom Wolff’s Power of Collaborative Solutions is a six step process that helps bring disparate groups together in civil society. Tom Wolff created it. He’s a psychologist who has worked a lot on bringing together divided communities.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Tom Wolff’s Power of Collaborative Solutions

Tom Wolff has spent his career bringing together communities of various types that have been divided for a whole host of reasons. Over his time working on this challenge, he has devised six core steps that he proposes are important for successfully and sustainably bringing divided communities together.

While these steps are specifically focused on communities, organizations can learn from them.

The Six Steps of Tom Wolff’s Power of Collaborative Solutions

Maybe he’s affected by the problem…

1 – Include the People Most Affected by the Problem

All too often the people most affected by a situation or problem are excluded from conversations designed to create solutions.

It’s very hard to fully understand problems unless you’re close to them (See problem solving), so it’s essential to bring those closest to the problem into the analysis and decision making process.

2 – Fostering True Collaboration that goes Beyond Simply Sharing Information

In some instances, decision makers and problem solvers consider the act of informing others of progress to be sufficient for collaboration. That’s not the case. Simply telling people about progress or updates is not collaboration, and real collaboration is required if bridges are to be built. Activities that support real collaboration require you to include people in the informing and decision making process as a minimum.

3 – Focusing on a Community’s Assets, not its Deficits

Individuals coalesce and can feel positive when discussing the good things that they actually have. Focusing on these, be they physical assets, skills, reputations or other positive things, helps build a sense of common success which is helpful for building unity.

It’s important not to focus on deficits, the things a community doesn’t have. If you focus on these deficits may enhance a sense of resentment and further alienate and dived a group.

A thumbs up representing a positive outcome from Tom Wolff's Power of Collaborative Solutions
It’s important to focus on the positives, not the negatives.

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4 – Creating a Democratic Process in which Everyone has a Say

No one likes to be “done to”. To help overcome this challenge it’s important to try and ensure that those involved in a situation have some voice over its resolution. This could be a direct voice, or a voice through their leaders.

If individuals don’t feel they have some form of voice, they will continue to feel excluded or marginalized and will have a disincentive to engage.

5 – Taking Action that Involves Social Change

To bring groups together in a lasting way you need to try and change their underlying social structures, behaviors and ways of acting with each other. Simply changing things like a built environment or a set of policies or rules will not lead to lasting social cohesion, but changing values and behaviors of a population might.

People coming together, a positive outcome of Tom Wolff's Power of Collaborative Solutions
People are at the heart of communities and organizations, so social change is key for unity.

6 – Engaging People at a Spiritual Level

It’s important to engage people beyond the rational to really help create cohesion. In some instances this can be spiritual, in others it might be philosophical, emotional or identity based.

Learning More

Bringing people together is an important skill in work. It’s helpful for team-building and improving culture and diversity and inclusion. The self-revealed stereotypes activity is another tool you might consider for doing this.

One thing that stands out from this model is the importance of co-creation. In many ways this model calls out things that are also important for collaborative problem solving. You might find our podcast on problem solving of interest. You can listen to it below.

The World of Work Project View

We think that many aspects of Tom Wolff’s Power of Collaborative Solutions will translate to the world of work. So it’s worth considering all of these points at an organizational level.

We struggle with the reference to engaging people at a spiritual level, thus prefer to use the phrase “philosophical” or perhaps even “psychological”. This is because these are terms we’re more comfortable with in a work context.

We think that points one, three and five are particularly important in the work context. These are not things that everyone does well. It’s essential to bring the people affected by a problem to the table when you’re looking to resolve it, it’s essential to focus on positives not negatives when looking to create a sense of commonality and it’s highly important to focus on values and behaviors (not just policies and procedures) if you’re looking to integrate disparate work groups.

Overall, we think this model is OK and worth being aware of, but think that a lot of what it says is captured in other models that may be better to use from an organizational change perspective.

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The core underlying theory in this post comes from work by Tom Wolff who has published his thinking in the book: “The Power of Collaborative Solutions”.

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