How to Succeed Through Distributed Collaboration

Bologna San Luca

The World Heritage Committee inscribed the porticoes on the list during the 44th session.

The porticoes of Bologna have been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage site since January 2006. People have been using this network of covered areas for a long time (stretches date to 13th Century). This alone makes them of 'outstanding universal value.'

Imagine being able to walk all the way from the city to the Sanctuary of San Luca atop the La Guardia hill without getting wet. And walking throughout the city protected from the heat. There's no other city in Italy like Bologna.

Many of the porticoes, as you'll see in the photos I took while passing by in 2018, are pieces of art. Even when I was walking under this beauty every day, I could not take them for granted. You discover an image, a carving that under a certain light and mood takes special meaning.

Near Piazza Cavour  Bologna[across a fantastic gelato place around Piazza Cavour]

On September 12, 2019, I watches as the municipality of Bologna submitted a preliminary dossier to qualify the porticoes as World Heritage Site permanently. This was voluntary, and happened with citizen participation.

People submitted photos and information through social media. Through a rigorous selection process, Bologna added nearly 13 miles (20 km) of porticoes outside the city walls to the 26 (42 km) already included.

Via dei Poeti Bologna[Via dei Poeti with bonus ceiling fresco above]

Citizen involvement didn't happen by chance. It was a deliberate act of civic participation. built on top of culture ready for it. Bologna city administration has created an environment where connection is desirable.

A city is one of the most decentralized places I know. If it's possible to do there where people operate under different roofs, why are so many companies struggling under (a metaphorical) one?

Bologna Porticoes[walking with my eyes to the ceilings paid off here]


How much do you feel valued?

This is the first test of any relationship, isn't it? In Bologna it all started with someone who wanted to paint a bench. Contact the city, get a permit, buy the right paint, get the job done. Not so fast.

But with five separate permits, as everyone discovered, you had to be truly motivated to make it happen. To Bologna's credit, they fixed the issue. However, that was just one isolated process. And participation had decreased to historic lows since the 2008 economic downturn.

Like for many companies and institutions, trust was in shatters. When that happens, people withdraw their active participation. You could demand change. Many leaders and companies that try even to manage it find out how critical it is to inspire it.

And when inspiration is part of the equation, your change becomes positive. There are common sense ways to honor the dignity of your people that are not common knowledge or common practice.

Yet, when you embrace human dignity, the healing can start even in the most difficult situations. As a conflict resolution facilitator, Donna Hicks has observed that the psychological undercurrent of many dialogues is the question of validating people's dignity through:

  1. acceptance of identity
  2. recognition
  3. acknowledgment
  4. inclusion
  5. safety
  6. fairness
  7. independence
  8. understanding
  9. benefit of the doubt
  10. accountability

Leaders often overlook how psychological harm is akin to physical violation. A higher level of consciousness on how we could be together would make a tremendous difference. You could be Leading with Dignity.

In my ten-year study of culture, I found a correlation between dignity and results. Hence, how much you feel valued corresponds to how much positive change you contribute. Connection is the first element that makes up the chemistry of engagement.


A simple path to get started

The city of Bologna decided to create value with governance. Why? Because it's a layer that supports physical, but also emotional infrastructure. In turn that facilitates commerce and experimentation.

Slow has all the power

Corporations have bureaucracy. Now could be a good moment to take stock of what serves you and what doesn't as you renegotiate working conditions. Resistance to change is typically two-ways.

When a company's leaders and managers take a step, teams and employees do as well. If the step is in the entrenching direction, you have mass resignations. The city of Bologna understood it needed to take a step to eliminate nuisance. And that was a good first step.

Once you acquire a taste for seeing acknowledgment and safety as paths to communicating value and worth, you're on your way. Accountability is possibly the hardest promise to keep. Hence it is is likely the one that demonstrates trustworthiness the most.

If you remember anything at all, is that dignity is like porticoes to people: it protects their vulnerability. And by doing that, it uncovers the energy underneath. This is how you succeed through distributed collaboration.


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