Collaborative Competency

by Maury White July 17, 2014

Our codes of professional conduct require “competency.” Sustainable professional practices require more; they require excellence. Collaborative Practice requires community. Communities only survive if they adequately protect and nurture their members’ interests. For those of us who have dedicated careers to the Collaborative Movement, communal excellence is of grave importance. We are fortunate to have a variety of communities to help sustain and energize our work, and the Movement. When excellence becomes a matter of communal concern, however, dynamic tensions arise from divergent motivations, goals and perspectives.

When form follows function it is a beautiful thing to behold. Small local practice groups, which meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, provide opportunities for conversation, connection, and vulnerable expression. We have quickly understood that trusting relationships between professionals are just as important as the trusting relationships between a competent professional and his or her client or patient. When time is taken to dialogue with a colleague about mutual hopes, fears and concerns; when two individuals come to know one another; a very large step towards excellence in Collaborative Practice is taken. We have a chance to know, for better or worse, why someone is in our community, for it is not a community into which we were born, but which we chose. These intimate communities, which can foster excellence, require vast amounts of personal commitment and dedication; to the work, and to the group. Professional burn-out; retirement, illness or worse, can all be very problematic to these communities’ health.

Metropolitan or regional Collaborative communities can provide additional opportunity for excellence: more members, more ideas, more clients, more diversity, and more continuity; of course, more money to spend on workshops and marketing, and dare I say, more problems. As communities grow, time must now be taken for managing competing ideas, making longer-term decisions and measuring the quality of the connection between our personal commitments, so easily aligned in intimate communities, but now distracted and pulled by the needs of a larger, less-personal community. Learning relevant common language becomes more complicated, and the 50 to 65-person continuing education programs become more prevalent; albeit, perhaps less relevant.  Serving on executive committees, coming to meetings to maintain roster status or catching up with counsel on litigated cases, will not substitute for the inter-personal learning which takes place over a cup of tea or coffee in the smaller groups and communities. Different form, different function. Get it wrong and energy will be dissipated.

Our state, national and international communities provide still more chances for individuals and local groups to bring excellence into their practice. Public policy has been shaped with the help of state bar associations who have successfully lobbied for passage of Collaborative Law statutes. Uniformity has led to consistent standards and there is growing wide-spread recognition that Collaborative “competency” requires something more, and something different. It requires attention to relationships. We have experienced an awakening spawned out of collective action, and our newfound collective wisdom calls for new collective formations. It is a beautiful thing when form follows function.

We can pay attention to our personal standards by having meaningful dialogue with a colleague. We can mindfully use the power of collective action to bring numbers into our groups, which can be healthy, as long as we do not lose sight of the purpose of our community and the meaning it was formed to provide. And, as we were reminded in San Antonio, we can use our collective wisdom to spend our energies wisely and in ways which truly benefit those in need; we can collaborate; avoid re-inventing wheels and competing for training dollars. By mindfully understanding the role of the individual and the role of community, our creativity will keep us healthy and robust; a thriving community helping to heal the world.

If we don't demand high standards for ourselves, and require them from the  members of our professional groups, the quality of practice will slip, the energy needed to sustain this work will dissipate and the movement will not be healthy and robust.

IACP is still the best resource for finding concentrated levels of competence and passion. Monthly Practice Group meetings and your real live Collaborative cases are the best resource for finding relationships. Both are requirements for competent Collaborative work. 

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