Marcella de la Torre headshot.

Outside Consultant: How Can We Best Collaborate in the Workplace?

This "Outside Consultant" column by Marcella de la Torre, EdD, a faculty member in the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on Nov. 22.

Collaboration is a win-win, whether you are a business owner, consultant, educator or nonprofit leader. Our natural tendency is to become siloed when we are facing tough decisions, adverse or unforeseen events, and crisis situations. The business environment is becoming more complex with the fast-changing environment, including the economy, diverse societies, technology and market trends. 

Managing complexity requires that leaders transform from managers who protect boundaries to skillfully practice boundary spanning. The SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) model, coined by David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute, is built on three central ideas. First, the brain treats social threats and rewards with the same intensity as physical threats and rewards. Second, the capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced by a threat response and increased under a reward response. Third, the threat response is more intense and more common and often needs to be carefully minimized in social interactions.   

The research has also shown that humans have an inherent need to belong and are incredibly sensitive to the environment and social context. Therefore, the social abilities of the team members become of critical importance in enhancing collaboration, performance and a sense of a rewarding experience. The SCARF model can improve thinking and performance in individuals and teams, help people become more adaptive using clear language, and enhance situational awareness.  

People look at the importance of themselves in the group. The brain likes to know what is going on and recognize patterns. Employees want to be able to organize their own work, have social connections with different groups and be able to work in an environment that is fair. 

What can leaders do to help mitigate the threat response and increase the reward response to collaborate? 

Before collaboration, leaders can help predict whether a threat is going to happen and modify their activities or choices. During collaboration, leaders can help notice a threat occurring while it’s happening and increase ability to self-regulate their own and others’ emotions in the moment.  

After collaboration, leaders can help explain and understand a situation after a negative event to decrease uncertainty and enable different choices in the future.  

Marcella de la Torre, EdD, is on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.