Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process

Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process


Executive Summary

Pressing global problems require optimal methods of collaboration to ensure that societies move toward progress and not chaos. At present, however, a breakdown in collaboration has materialized in the form of political polarization, social unrest, governmental impasse, and the fraying of democratic institutions. In this paper, I propose three measures of successful collaboration, highlight major barriers to its achievement, and recommend a three-tiered model to optimize the process.

At this extraordinary time of political, economic, and social transformation, the world’s most contentious issues require collaboration—whether to curb climate change, negotiate a trade deal, or revise the social contract between government and civil society. But current efforts to work together on issues of important societal concern have fallen short, as evidenced by the increasing hazards of climate change, the detrimental impact of interstate trade wars, and on-going partisan divides that have led to legislative impasse and, in some cases, protest and violence. On the surface, these divides are nothing new: conflict is intrinsic to the human condition. But advances in the field of negotiation offer innovative approaches to societal collaboration that can help people reach greater levels of integration. Drawing on research in the field of negotiation, I highlight three measures of successful collaboration, describe major barriers to joint work, and offer a three-tiered approach to optimize collaboration.

Measuring Success

Collaboration is a process by which stakeholders cooperate to address a shared challenge, ranging from completing a joint project to negotiating an international treaty. Each party usually has an explicit or implicit motivation to work together—but the process is not conflict-free; no two individuals’ interests and personalities will mesh with full precision. Thus, stakeholders must create maximal value while building good relations.


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About the Author

Daniel ShapiroDaniel Shapiro: Founder and Director, Harvard International Negotiation Program Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School/McLean HospitalAffiliate faculty, Program on Negotiation Daniel Shapiro teaches a highly evaluated course on negotiation at Harvard College; instructs psychology interns at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital; and leads executive education sessions at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital. He also has served on the faculty at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Named one of the top 15 professors at Harvard University, Shapiro specializes in practice-based research—building theory and testing it in real-world contexts. He has launched successful conflict resolution initiatives in the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia, and for three years chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Conflict Resolution. Focusing extensively on the emotional and identity-based dimensions of negotiation and conflict resolution, Shapiro led the initiative to create the world’s first Global Curriculum on Conflict Management for senior policymakers as well as a conflict management curriculum that now reaches one million youth across more than 20 countries. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Psychological Association’s Early Career Award and the Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award. In May of 2019, Shapiro was named Harvard’s Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the oldest of the teaching awards given out by the Undergraduate Council.

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