Pseudo Collaborators

Dec 1, 2023

Words come and go in popularity in the English language with some becoming an item of jargon that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context. The word ‘collaboration’ is no exception.  

In today’s business world the word ‘collaboration’ has become freely used, easily rolling off the lips of business leaders who see it as a behaviour to extol both about their own business and also the way they go about it.  

Notwithstanding its free use, it is also possibly one of the least understood and consequently misused words today in business.  

A few leaders, a small minority at the very best, use it genuinely and correctly whilst the majority seemingly use it to ‘keep up appearances’ vis-à-vis their competitors and here is the problem. These leaders (if we can describe them as such) are pretending to act as if something is true e.g. collaboration, when it is not: they are ‘pseudo collaborators’. 

These ‘pseudo collaborators’ are dangerous to the cause of ‘collaboration’, for whilst they appear to say the right things their behaviours and actions, visible to all, do not align with what they say: they are not for ‘collaborating’. As to why this occurs, and so frequently, it is important to understand that some simple beliefs that people hold dictate to them how they approach and go about business. 

Two researchers, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman, in 1974 studied workers and their routine conflicts at work.  Overtime their research allowed them to observe how people resolved conflict and they distilled this down into five core approaches1 of which two are of significance. 

Many people believe that business is competitive and about winning: they have a win/lose mindset. These people are characterised as ‘competing’ individuals by Thomas and Kilman, for they pursue their own aims at the expense of others using whatever power to win their position: they are assertive and uncooperative 

On the other hand, those whom Thomas and Kilman found to be effective in collaborating were assertive in attempting to satisfy their own desires but were equally focused on being cooperative in satisfying the wishes of others: a win/win approach that satisfies the needs of both parties.   

The two styles are very different and to illustrate there are 5 ways that the two conflict: 

Competing   Collaborating 
Trust is low  Trust is high 
Communication is low quality and as required  Communication is high quality and continuous 
Problems are simple: unidimensional  Problems are complex: multidimensional 
Organisational culture rewards ‘winning’  Organisational culture rewards ‘cooperation’ 
Relationships are as required   Relationships are ongoing and continuous 
Defends a position believing this is correct  Explores a creative solution for both/all parties 


Our CICI research2 found that people with competing behaviours are dominant with there being some 16 ‘forces against collaboration’ with just 3 of the 19 we researched being ‘forces for collaboration’ (though these were weak). 

That there is much to be done would appear obvious, but thirty years on the sector has resisted collaboration, joint-venturing, partnering and (now) alliancing. Why? 

People cannot be forced to collaborate and the more you try the more you are creating a conflict situation. Trying to push organisations with cultures that reward people with competing behaviours to collaborate and to work collaboratively the more they will look defend their position and seek to ‘win’ resulting in its rejection. What can be done? 

‘Pseudo collaborators’ need to recognise that the ‘competing mindset’ of win/win invariably leads to lose/lose: contracts that run over cost and time as well of poor quality is a familiar story for the Construction sector. When will this stop? 

The answer lies in the hands of real Leaders (notice the use of the capital letter) who have the vision to see that ‘pseudo collaborators’, the culture they create and the way they advocate working has nothing to offer except in carrying on operating in the same old fruitless way. 

Learning is required for it is time to change. 

We at CICI are here to help and support organisations and their people in working together more collaboratively and effectively. We carry out research to support what we say and what we do. We run training in collaboration and working collaboratively both in open courses as well as  for organisations and supply chains. To find out more and maybe discuss run the Thomas-Kilman Instrument with your leaders or supply chain, please contact 

Sign up for our newsletter

Receive our regular email updates informing you of upcoming events, membership benefits, and other information relevant to CESW.

Become a member

Join Constructing Excellence South West to help drive the industry's positive change agenda within our region.