Collaboration lessons from the paddock

Working as a collaboration specialist means I am always learning ways to support people working together. Most of these lessons come unsurprisingly from working with people. This last month however has had me immersed in lambing season that has highlighted five lessons from the paddock for collaborative practice.

1. Peaks and valleys

2. Emergence

3. Dealing with fear and risk

4. Self responsibility

5. Having fun

Peaks and valleys
Lambing this season has been a journey of peaks and valleys. There have been peaks of thriving twins and triplets with attentive mothers. There have been valleys of worrying about feed and dealing with bad weather and there has been the odd ravine of ewe and lamb loss through accident and sickness.

Much of collaborating is valley-like where you work to understand each other and the dilemma you collectively face. Then you have the peaks where you reach common ground and agree on some solutions to trial. The ultimate peaks come when the original dilemma subsides and outcomes are achieved.

Being mindful that there are peaks and valleys encourages all collaborators to find cadence as they work together. This cadence prevents burn out and enables celebration of the peaks along the way.


As I sat down to write this blog a neighbour with whom we share a driveway phoned to say: “Your lambs are in the drive.” So out I went and somehow managed to guide 3 random variables, otherwise known as lambs, back into the paddock.

When collaborating in complexity, you never know what is coming next so you need to have structures and resources in place to be ready for anything. In my case, that meant a trusting relationship with the ewes enabled me to call them towards the gap in the gate, they called the lambs through and then I could block that gap…..for now.

Fear and risk assessment
With all these unknowns you can be fearful as to what might happen and you have to take risks with your decisions. We are low on feed so needed to shift paddocks. The neighbour was keen for the sheep to go into her paddock but as a relatively ungrazed pasture it was full of toxic weeds and had hazards like a hidden creek and loose fencing. I feared for lamb death and liver damage to the ewes. After identifying the weeds, I took advice from 3 livestock experts and then made the decision to use the neighbour’s paddock.

When collaborating in complexity, you need to take on as much information as you can and then weigh the risks to make a decision. You must tackle fear with courage and accept responsibility for the outcomes.

Even though collaboration is about working with others and the collective, it is also ultimately about you as an individual. It is about you stepping up and taking action even when it is hard.

For me that meant helping a ewe with a prolapsed uterus birth her dead twins. Reaching deep to get those dead lambs out was a stretch for my courage. Even though the outcome was sad with both ewe and lambs not making it, I was proud that I had acted.


I challenge anyone to watch lambs at their ‘popcorn’ hour of dusk and not smile. The lambs are simply joy in action. They pop, they jump, and they run; they smash into each other and basically have a whole lot of fun.

Collaboration can also be hugely fun and it is the humorous moments that ease the travel. The lesson from the lambs is to look for the fun and enjoy it fully.

'Popcorn' Hour

I hope you have enjoyed this narrative from the paddock and like our lambs who are growing, you and your fellow collaborators too are growing in capacity as you work together.

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