Unlocking Cooperation by Integrating Differences

A core principle of Cooperative Advantage is that leaders can grow the overall pie by intelligently serving both the whole and each part. The key is integrating, seemingly incompatible, positions into unified action that serves all. Integration moves differences and conflict from positions that are stuck in a win-lose battle to more creative win-win solutions.

Integration and the Meat Processing Industry

We see the lack of integration playing out in the meat industry in the U.S. at this time. The industry is stuck in a win-lose battle between meat processors and their workforces.  The processors have been deemed essential businesses. Workers must return to work or lose unemployment benefits. However workers are at great risk of catching COVID-19 in the workplace. And hence workers’ families and communities are also at great risk.  As more workers fall ill this is actually likely to escalate into a lose-lose battle once too few workers are available to run the plants.

In this case an integrated solution would be one where all processing plants were able to start up and meet the needs of customers business, and a healthy workforce. To achieve this they would be a need to fully integrate the perspectives, knowledge, and capabilities of the meat packing industry, workers and their unions; communities; health experts; and local, state, and federal governments. They would likely need to implement practices, such as those recommended by the CDC, to ensure the safety of all workers. And to succeed it would help if the federal government were to help ensure an ample supply of testing, tracking, and protective equipment; 

How Integration Works

Integration requires a mindset that considers each person’s perspective, including our own, to be valid but partial.  It holds that better decisions can be made by effectively combining the best from each perspective.  Integration is accomplished by managing two process at once.  One external and the other internal:

    • External This is the process of relating with others. As in the meat processing example, integration looks for win-win solutions. It recognizes that all opinions are not equal, some include more knowledge and expertise. Some include vantage points that are closer to particular aspects of the situation. Multiple perspectives must be artfully combined. When effectively integrating we do not settle for lose-lose compromise. Rather we identify the gold from each perspective and combine them into a more robust win-win solution.
    • Internal  This is the process of relating to the differing voices within ourselves. It is only possible to achieve external integration when we are able to temper our reactive tendencies such that we are available to listen and learn. When we are triggered our internal state colors our view and we cannot see clearly. Those with the positional power to force their way on others must be willing to listen to the full range of views and help integrate insights and perspectives of all into a unified whole. 

Only when I’m internally calm and fully aware of what is happening between me and others and inside myself can I have the clarity to find the best solution. Hence I need to be patient to wait and work through the difficulties within me and the difficulties I have with others.

Integrating the book Flourishing Enterprise

The research and writing process for the book, Flourishing Enterprise, is a good example of a challenging, but rewarding, integration process.  I led the research that led to this book. The team included nine seasoned, and resolute, practitioners. We had many heated dialogs and debates. 

The writing process included two lead authors and large contributions from everyone else. None of us were happy with the initial draft. But through a process of heavy review and revision, and with the help of a great editor, we ended up with a product that was coherent and much better than any of us could have developed on our own. Crafting an integrated book with multiple authors is very rare. Most books with multiple authors are collections of individual chapters. The success of this book rested on the commitment that each of us had to producing  a quality product and our willingness to listen to each other and integrate the best from everyone.

Integrating Sustainable Buildings at Walmart

When helping Walmart initiate its Environmental Sustainability program, integration was key to developing a whole series of sustainability strategies in areas such as buildings, fleet, packaging, greenhouse gas, and various product types. 

Developing the sustainability strategy for stores provides an illustrative example. Rocky Mountain Institute had locked horns with Walmart experts some years before. At that time Walmart was defensive; if  RMI was right then Walmart would have be wrong.  Hence Walmart concluded that RMI’s novel ideas were impractical. 

For the strategy process, the executive committee tasked the Wal-Mart team to develop two strategies for sustainable stores; 1) Compete and 2) Swimming Up Stream:

    1. Compete – look at what others are doing and develop a plan that is a little bit better both for the environment and for the business.
    2. Swimming-up-stream – based on this term, coined by Sam Walton, this was a plan that would go beyond the conventional wisdom.  It had to be much better for the environment and for Walmart.

Now, Walmart was happy to engage with Rocky Mountain Institute because RMI’s innovative ideas might be of help. Walmart also engaged the firm that normally worked with them on stores (but used an alternative design team). This firm was trusted for its practical perspective. Within this process we conducted a design charrette with a wide range of experts many with very novel ideas. Walmart developed and chose the swimming-up-stream plan.  It included a wide range of innovations that could be combined in various ways. Some were as simple as changing the color of the roof. Others, such as changes to the HVAC systems, were scalable solutions that changed the supplier industry (in this case HVAC) and met the needs for new construction and operations.

Five Steps to Integration

These and other experiences reveal five steps to effective integration:

    1. Foster an integrative mindset: People must understand the value of integrating multiple perspectives and be willing to forgo their strong positions in order to create a better solution that serves multiple interests.
    2. Manage the external process: This is the search for win-win. We take the best of what the experts know and what the people closest to the action can see along with other important perspectives.  
    3. Manage the internal process: We must be available inside to listen and deeply understand each other. Work to create a coherent field among participants from which creative ideas can flow.
    4. Endure: A key leadership dimension of integration is the shared commitment to settle for nothing less. Do not settle for lose-lose compromise but work to find innovative solutions that best meet the interests of all stakeholders.

By David Sherman, Founder, Cooperative Advantage.  David equips and supports leaders to develop and integrate the cooperative power of people, organizations and systems to advance a better future.

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