Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets is a 16-week workout program designed to help groups achieve high-performance by instilling the right culture and creating a safe space for participants to practice the skills they need to be more collaborative.

The program consists of:

  • Kickoff. The program starts with a kickoff meeting (either a full-day face-to-face meeting or two two-hour calls with homework). We introduce the frameworks, and the group aligns around the mindsets and muscles it wants to focus on for the ensuing 15-weeks.
  • 12 weekly pair workouts. The core of the program centers around weekly one-hour workouts, which are designed to help you with the work you’re already doing. Participants do these workouts with a partner (either face-to-face or remotely), then share takeaways from that workout with the rest of the group on an online forum.
  • 3 monthly full-group checkins. Every four weeks, the full group comes together (either face-to-face or remotely) for 90-minutes to reflect on their experiences as a group and also to do some group workouts.
  • Regular assessments and feedback. These offer a framework for identifying your strengths and weaknesses and for tracking your development.

All of the content from this program is freely available, and participants are encouraged to do these workouts on their own and to share them with others. We also offer a train-the-trainer program.

If you’re interested in participating, contact Eugene Eric Kim.

Outcomes

Builds greater connectivity. Simply having everyone connect with one other person on a regular basis has a tremendous impact on the performance of the group overall. It creates deeper trust and shared understanding, and it also creates an ongoing space for reflection and learning.

Creates shared language. The muscles and mindsets frameworks and the corresponding stories from the participants themselves creates a shared language for naming and discussing group dynamics, strengths, and weaknesses. This shared language is a critical prerequisite for achieving high-performance.

Develops muscles and habits. Knowing what you could be doing better is not the same as doing it. The workouts help participants develop high-performance habits so that they can embody critical skills without thinking about them.

Motivation

Collaboration is hard. Like any craft, it takes time to master. You cannot read a book or take a weekend workshop and suddenly become good at collaboration.

Most of us have an intuitive sense of what’s required to collaborate effectively. We know that communication is critical, which means that we need to be good at listening and at being empathetic. We know that we have to be competent at doing the actual task at hand. We know that the group needs clarity and alignment about goals and roles.

We know all of these things, and we’re all capable of doing all of these things to some extent, but that doesn’t mean that we’re good at them. What we need is the opportunity to develop all of these skills with intention and feedback. What we need is practice.

Furthermore, simply having the right skills is not enough. Our behavior isn’t just dictated by the muscles we have, but also by our mindsets — what we think and feel. For example, we all are capable of asking for help (although some of us are better at it than others), but if we don’t think that asking for help is a desirable practice, we are not likely to do it.

If we are conscious of the mindsets we want to have, we can get there by consciously developing habits that encourage these mindsets, which once again requires practice.

Mindsets

Anyone can see a group’s behavior (what it does), which makes it easy to talk about. It’s much harder but equally important to examine a group’s mindsets (what it thinks) and values (what it believes), because those things often dictate why it behaves the way it does.

We use mindset cards to help make implicit mindsets explicit and to have a concrete conversation about desired mindsets.

For example, a group might say that it wishes to have more of a “learning” culture, but what does that actually mean?

With the help of the mindset cards, we might determine that many participants currently think, “Mistakes are bad,” but what we want them to think is, “Mistakes are part of learning.” We can express both of these mindsets as a spectrum going from less to more productive:

ex-mindset-1

We can then ask participants where they think they should be along that spectrum:

ex-mindset-2

We can also ask participants where they think they are:

ex-mindset-3

The results of this assessment gives everybody a sense of where the group is along the mindset spectrum. More importantly, they facilitate a more grounded conversation about what the mindsets actually mean and why they’re important.

In our kickoff, the group aligns around a set of three-to-six mindset shifts on which it would like to focus. We then take a baseline measurement to see where the group’s mindsets currently stand. We use these mindsets throughout the program, then take another measurement at the end in order to assess progress.

Muscles

These are the muscles that we target in our workouts. I’m using Beth Kanter’s Crawl-Walk-Run-Fly framework as a way to assess progress. I am continuously refining this framework based on what we learn from working with groups.

Workouts

The workouts emphasize “muscle” awareness, development, and habit-building through repetition. They are designed to support the work and projects you are already doing, tapping into muscles that you already have. No special knowledge or frameworks are required.

Many of the workouts are variations of improv and other group process exercises. They can be performed both face-to-face or remotely. The more regularly and often you do them, the more likely you are to embody the lessons from these exercises, to apply them without having to think about them.

History and Acknowledgments

Collaboration Muscles and Mindsets began as Changemaker Bootcamp in 2013. I am deeply indebted to all of my early participants and supporters, who trusted me with their time and commitment with what was then a half-baked idea:

  • Jessica Ausinheiler
  • Anna Castro
  • Eugene Chan
  • Natalie DeJarlais
  • Renee Fazzari
  • Brooking Gatewood
  • Marie Haller
  • Amy Luckey
  • Dana Reynolds
  • Lauren Rodriguez

In 2014, with the support of the Garfield Foundation and particularly Rick Reed, I decided to adapt and incorporate the group culture and mindset work I did previously in partnership with Kristin Cobble at Groupaya. (See the Mindset Cards page for more on that history.) Rick coined the name, “Muscles & Mindsets.”

The high-level muscles framework has had many inspirations, particularly Adam Kahane’s notion of dynamic balance (which he writes about in Power and Love) and Gideon Rosenblatt’s task / relationship framework.

I’m using Beth Kanter’s wonderfully simple Crawl-Walk-Run-Fly framework as the basis of my muscles assessment. Several of my previous and current participants as well as other colleagues have contributed important feedback that I’ve incorporated into this framework, including:

  • Ashwat Anandanarayanan
  • Holly Bartling
  • Jessica Conrad
  • Trevor Drake
  • Renee Fazzari
  • Gail Francis
  • Sarina Otaibi
  • Seb Paquet
  • Sarah Shanahan
  • Edward West

I have shamelessly borrowed and adapted many of my workouts from countless of other friends and colleagues over the years, and I couldn’t put together a comprehensive list even if I tried. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed help from Rebecca Petzel and Yi Zhang.

Kate Wing has been hugely helpful in showing me the ways of improv and brainstorming ways to adapt the exercises. In particular, she introduced me to Rebecca Stockley, Keith Johnstone’s Impro, and Games for Actors and Non-actors by Augusto Boal, who founded Theatre of the Oppressed. If we all did improv regularly, there would be no need for Collaboration Muscles & Mindsets.

In 2014, I did a three-month pilot with RE-AMP with support from Garfield Foundation. I am currently doing a six-month pilot with Forward Together and a cohort of its partners. All of my wonderful participants have embraced the workouts with great attitudes and patience and have shared honest feedback that allowed me to rapidly improve the program.

Finally, Amy Wu of Duende has been an incredible ongoing partner in helping me design impactful materials and visuals.