Since 2020 Deep Collaboration has been working with various groups in a number of different contexts improving the way they work together and creating shared leadership between First Nations and other multicultural Australians.

One of the most exciting elements of Deep Collaboration is working with people on conversations about power and how we can use it to improve our collaborations. Over the past two years Deep Collaboration has been able to help people improve their understanding about power and to use it more effectively in collaboration with First Nations and other multicultural Australians.

Sometimes the conversation about power can be awkward, uncomfortable, or even offensive. We can feel self-conscious as we try to navigate identifying our power, understanding how it works, and how we can improve our understanding about our personal power. The awkwardness with power conversations is amplified when discussing what kind of power shows up in the collaborations between First Nations and other Australians. However, I have been able to witness people moving through the awkward and clumsy conversations around power to arrive at improved awareness, understanding, and readiness to use their power to improve collaborations together.

It has been exciting to see people grow in their understanding of power and increase their confidence to have conversations about power with First Nations and other multicultural Australians. Here are 5 Power Plays from our Deep Collaboration practice, or what I like to call, The Deep Collaboration Power Play Book that can help you to improve your understanding of power.

Power play 1: Words matter. The words we use about power, the way we define power, and the word associations we have with power all matter. They shape the way we relate to power and how we are likely to use it in our collaborations. One of the techniques we use in Deep Collaboration is we ask people in the room, or on the screens, to define power in their own words. We have found that even this simple request can generate rich conversations about power and our relationship to it. We often find several definitions for power that are insightful, challenging, and profoundly relevant to the context that people are working from?. One example of this, was a beautiful moment recently when a group developed three definitions for power, and each one of those definitions brought out a very significant dimension of power that was stunningly relevant for their work together.

Power play 2: They’ve got the power. We spend time exploring the very popular dynamic of power being attributed to others and not to ourselves. This time generates an important conversation in understanding what power is, who has it, and how it is used. On the Deep Collaboration website, we point out that power awareness is a fundamental understanding to be effective in collaborations between First Nations and other multicultural Australians. However, we have seen, many Australians are reluctant to engage in conversations about power. We believe this dynamic has its roots in our colonial history and we see it show up when we begin to analyse what power we have and how we got it. One example of power realisation occurred recently when a First Nations leader commented about how she realised how much power she had individually, and how much the group had collectively. We often see more power in others and less in ourselves.

Power play 3: Interpretation games. When we work across differences in culture, power, and any other significant divide, there can be a massive range of interpretations about what is going on in the work together. At Deep Collaboration, we lean into this vast range of interpretations and work with the origins of our perceptions. This time spent on understanding our lenses of interpretation helps to build our awareness of the power we have, and the perceptions of power others have of us. A great example of this was when a collaboration was very concerned about how the furniture was arranged in a room because we were all conscious of not wanting anything to be interpreted as power games. Even the arrangement of chairs, the so-called ‘front-of-the-room’, and access to bathrooms can all be interpreted as uses of power. The collaborative work is to navigate through all the interpretations and keep working together.

Power play full: Know your power. Getting to know your power is about becoming more aware of the power that you have, and the power that’s attributed to you. Remember there are others who see more power in you than you see in yourself. At Deep Collaboration we draw heavily on the work of Julie Diamond to help people become aware and understand their power. We spend time talking about the contextual nature of power and how some of it endures with us wherever we go. These conversations about knowing one’s own personal power and appreciating that others can see it has proved to be so useful for people to apply to the collaboration space between First Nations and other multicultural Australians. A great example of coming to awareness of power was a confession from a non-Indigenous person about changing the way they have been operating for many years and using their position and access with more purpose, rather than denying their power and influence.

Power play 5: Use your power. At Deep Collaboration we operate on the understanding that power is not finite, and we need all kinds of people using all kinds of power to bring about change. We have found that sometimes people can be focused on giving up power or denying their influence. We have also heard popular challenges to ideas of sharing power. What we have found is that we need all kinds of people to use all kinds of power in all kinds of places, and in all kinds of ways to bring about change. We spend time challenging people to find practical and meaningful ways to exercise using their power. We have seen people excitingly join forces to take on challenges that seemed too difficult before working with Deep Collaboration. One outstanding example of this comes from two people who have been able to take Deep Collaboration insights, learning and practices into their workplace and have been able to create a shift in the mental models of their system. Their work has shown us that it is not really about sharing power, but rather it is about generating more power for change.

Hope you have been able to take something from these reflections on the practice of Deep Collaboration and our work on power.

Author, Mark Yettica-Pauslon. Deep Collaboration Practice Lead CFI.


Sign up for learning program updates