Wheels within wheels and working better together

Creating a collaborative culture can lead to good outcomes, less conflict and business relationships based on openness and trust, says Clare B Marshall.

On embarking on my new business venture and talking to my dad about the amazing response from friends, colleagues and wider network, he said: “wheels within wheels”. And I thought “here he goes again, surprising me with his insights”. 

Having not heard the old adage for some time, I needed to investigate. According to various dictionaries ‘wheels within wheels’ suggests a very complicated situation - a situation with various complexities influencing each other. 

Whilst I’m not one to regularly quote the Bible the idiom seemingly originates there. “And their appearance and their work was, as it were, a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” (Ezekiel 1:16). 

In the lead up to the recent US-Russia summit, president Biden expressed a desire to improve US-Russian relations, to establish something more predictable while recognising: “It’s about self-interest and the verification of self-interest. Or, as the old expression goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.

And, whilst not earth shattering (thankfully), what a successful summit it appeared to be. Both leaders appeared reasonably positive about the other with Putin commenting that Biden “spoke the same language . . . showed an understanding of his moral values. That’s all quite attractive. It doesn’t mean we looked into each other’s eyes or souls. We have to represent our countries. The relationship is a pragmatic one”.

A situation of high complexity, an example of wheels within wheels and of high stakes diplomacy. And with at least one good outcome - the reinstatement of each country’s respective ambassadors to their offices in Moscow and Washington. 

From here, further talks leading to - the world collectively hopes - more in-depth, sensitive negotiations on highly intricate matters including human rights, physical and cyber security. And greater collaboration? Possibly. From this situation of complexity on a major geopolitical scale, what can be gleaned for other areas of cross-national, cross-cultural, cross-business engagement?  

The summit led me to think about my approach. Not only to conflict situations, but other areas where the importance of building trust, being collaborative and the basic need for the human element proves highly effective, if not critical to a successful outcome.

And the importance, in a business context, of bringing people together and giving everyone an opportunity to hear each other’s objectives, share views and diverse perspectives. And of how achieving this when gathering virtually requires special care and attention. 

Creating a collaborative culture includes creating an environment of openness and trust, being cooperative by listening (really listening, not simply staying silent), responding and reflecting whilst not meekly accepting others’ agendas. Creating a collaborative culture does not include being a push over!

"Creating a collaborative culture includes creating an environment of openness and trust, being cooperative by really listening and not staying silent. It does not include being a push over!"

A collaborative environment enables trusted relationships, business creation, effective decision making and  problem-solving. It motivates, energises and brings a common purpose - even in the face of conflict or adversity.     

Biden was no doubt accommodating and listened carefully, whilst being self-assured and no push over. But had Biden approached the summit thumping tables or displaying overly threatening or aggressive behaviour . . . same outcome? Unlikely. 

As Biden says, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. But, whatever the situation, whether it involves complexity, working through a disagreement, conflict or an otherwise challenging situation, it no doubt requires the establishment of (at least a degree of) trust, collaboration and shared objectives. 

A collaborative culture can avoid conflict situations brewing, enabling problems to be tackled early. A collaborative, as opposed to confrontational, approach can lead to good (if not better) outcomes. 

My Dad was right.

Wheels within wheels is not just about complexity, but about collaboration and how working together to achieve common goals keeps the wheels turning and keeps the world spinning.

Clare B Marshall is the founder of the business consultancy 2MPy.