Collaborating, Cooperating and Cohesion in Risk

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imageIt’s interesting to work with teams that are falling apart and factionalising in organisations because it always comes down to undisclosed ideological assumptions. Many people in organisations don’t think they have a worldview (paradigm) and can rarely can articulate their ideology (ethic). Indeed, many think their view is neutral and can’t understand why others don’t rally around their cause or view. What I and some of my team do, is simply bring to the surface and articulate the hidden ideology and leave it up to the will of the team to seek the next steps.

Recently in Australia the plight of a footballer has illustrated how extremism and binary oppositionalism limit collaboration and cooperation. Israel Folau is a popular player for the Wallabies (Rugby) and also a fundamentalist Christian. He put a post up on social media that condemned a selection of ‘sinners’ to hell ( ). His story highlights how symbols/myths create ‘boundary objects’ ( between people.

The story of Folau and how he was sacked from the Wallabies has now morphed into much more than where it started and now has become a symbol/myth for religious freedom and free speech ( ). Unfortunately, the issue is so politicized that it has emerged as an indicator of neither. Once something is politicized the chance of collaboration, cooperation or cohesion disappears. Political alliances then become the test of ideological agreement. Each side anchors to its political corner and the issue disappears as the real issue emerges – power!

One of the challenges the risk and safety industry faces as it seeks to mature and become professional is the need to articulate an ethic. At the moment it seems that if you come from a mechanistic/engineering worldview there is no issue. All the acolytes of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) line up and shout ‘praise the lord’. Yes, let’s have agreement as long as you move towards me, praise zero and pass out the algorithms.

Unfortunately, the global mantra for safety is zero ( and, there can be no more extreme view than such an absolute. Zero is a boundary object (symbol/myth) that serves to separate not unite the risk and safety community. If you come from the STEM worldview those who don’t rally around zero must be demonized. After all, zero is the only acceptable number right? Yes, only if you accept a STEM worldview but, there are other valid worldviews ( Perhaps those worldviews might offer some profound learning for the STEM community. There’s only one way to find out.

Unfortunately, as in the Israel Folau case once the issue became that of political allegiance and a benchmark boundary object, all chance of movement (learning) ceased. When an extreme position is taken on anything there can never be cohesion or collaboration. When something is made binary, then one can only see ‘the other’ as the extremist. Let’s cooperate as long as you move towards me. Of course, this all depends on whether one values collaboration anyway! Ha, ‘zero is the only acceptable number’, assumes that numbers, metrics and numerics matter. Given recent debates in the industry, I see no will to shift on any of these. This is the power of anchoring to myth and symbol.

When something becomes politicized it is then buried in myths and symbols. This hides differences and the politics of difference. In the case of Folau this has become buried in one’s hermeneutic (theory of interpretation) of the Bible. Now it has become anchored to how much money one can raise ( for one’s cause under the naïve belief that numbers demonstrates something. Sound familiar? Interestingly, this whole case will now be decided in the courts and the courts think differently and arbitrate in a completely different worldview than either of the binary camps.

The only way to develop collaboration across disciplines (STEM to others) is to be prepared to shift boundary objects and depoliticize myths and symbols. This takes enormous will, ability to question and insight to embrace a trans-disciplinary view of the world ( ). Such a move is premised on how much one values learning and indeed, if one thinks ‘the other’ can help that process. However, without movement there can be no learning, just more building fortresses and strengthening of boundary objects. What often results through binary opposition is the creation of new and rival associations and then history takes its course.

Somerville and Rapport (2000) demonstrate this dynamic in Transdisciplianarity: reCreating Integrated Knowledge and offer a way forward to learning through the practical shifting of boundary objects.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

8 Replies to “Collaborating, Cooperating and Cohesion in Risk”

  1. Yet another thought provoking article that pushes one to consider beyond the mainstream “school of thought”, (even if the school is the the university of zero harm which everyone knows is an impossible dream). I recently grappled with the Israel Folau case for my Law Masters paper and the binary thinking will also play out in the courts on this matter – the Fair Work Commission (and Federal Court) due to jurisdictional limitations have little ability to stray out of the constraints of case law for employment law – this is what it is like as a safety professional and your General Manager or Director says – lets go zero – or the “sit stand desks for all” because they have taken a “position” based on what Google or Apple have done in their workplaces – trying to convince the GM/MD that they have been hoodwinked by propaganda and a “company specific” response to safety issues is what is required is about as difficult as convincing the FWC that human right to expression is conferred (albeit by implied right) by section 51 of the Constitution – Thanks for another great book (Transdisciplianarity: reCreating Integrated Knowledge) to study also

  2. What I find most intriguing is that teamwork becomes paramount when it is linked to profitability (production per unit of cost) and productivity (production per unit of time).

    However, zero harm ideology conveniently resorts to individualism and any language such as collective coherence, collective mindfulness or solidarity is immediately demonised and categorised as socialism.

  3. What I find most intriguing is that teamwork becomes paramount when linked to profitability (production per unit of cost) and productivity (production per unit of time).

    However, zero harm ideology conveniently reverts to individualism and any language such as collective coherence, collective mindfulness or solidarity is immediately demonised and categorised as socialism.

    1. Of course the link between individualism, behaviourism and zero is key. It’s the source of blame in the industry but noone wants to address the source just the symptom.

  4. What I find most intriguing is that teamwork becomes paramount when linked to profitability (production per unit of cost) and productivity (production per unit of time.

    However, zero harm ideology conveniently reverts to individualism or social atomisation and any language such as collective mindfulness, solidarity, collective coherence or communities of practice is immediately demonised and categorised as thoughtcrime or socialism.

  5. The ideology most common in safety is that unsafe people disturb safe work. Thus, what GMs desire in a safety role is someone who can control workers, put them in their place, yell and threaten them if needed. The desirable safety person will fulfill this role without being too much of a bother about working conditions, job planning, or worker participation. The desirable safety person only needs a few courses on law and technical safety courses or experience. Technology fits in well with this ideology because it gives those in control more information, more ability to control. GMs can feel threatened by safety, laws they have to obey make them fell less powerful, so safety can be threatening, and those who do well in safety are docile to that power. If we provide safety people with education outside of STEM we will directly challenge the status quo and we will quickly be unemployed. Any serious safety professional who desires to operate outside of the limited safety technical scope needs a degree in something other than safety. Many senior safety positions are being filled with MBA grads. The cognitive dissonance is beginning to settle across HSE because the world’s HSE leaders do not have the depth of understanding of world views that is displayed on this stage. Rob you are true thought leader in this space and I look forward to your new book.

  6. Suzanne, most perceptive. Of course, if this training of safety people is really this narrow then they cannot be ‘professional’. One can’t be professional and maintain the unethical language of zero either. The ideologies that maintains this safety focus on controls and dehumanising are positivism and behaviourism. In the end the industry will just become ineffective and known for its brutalism. and it doesn’t matter what badging its called either its not ‘different’ if the ideology doesn’t change.

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