Our Intuitive Capacity for Deep Collaboration

Twenty-four of us are crammed into the kitchen, trying not to tread on each others’ toes. We have a box of vegetables dug fresh from the allotments at Cloughjordan Ecovillage, County Tipperary, Ireland. Our task, should we choose to accept it, is to feed ourselves using only these veg and the utensils in our host Stephen’s kitchen. Stephen lives alone; his pans are not huge!

Brian volunteers a fried potato hash. Sheila goes straight for the rhubarb to rustle up a crumble. Mairead grabs the two types of green beans and the chard for a stir-fry.

Within minutes, without any conspicuous process, we are working in clusters to prepare an enticing array of dishes. I have my doubts: are we slicing enough potatoes for 24? Is there really enough beetroot for Marcus’ beetburgers? Will there be enough room on the hob and in the oven?

I need not have worried. Within the hour, we sit down to a three-course meal. Everything is ready on time. And yes, there is enough to go ‘round. Vegans are catered for—all that was needed was a few burgers without the cheese we had made earlier that afternoon.

What fascinates me about this process is its fluidity. No one is in overall command; no one’s ego gets in the way; no one is seen to slack off; no one complains about doing too much. When something needs to be done, someone picks it up—getting an extra knife to chop carrots, grabbing another tea towel to dry dishes. When we need to, we work in teams. When a gap appears, someone shifts place without instruction. I have seen this process occur increasingly over recent years. Sometimes it has a frame around it with rules or conventions. These are the fences that allow freedom within.

A good example of this process is an event in Vienna earlier this year where a group of business students held a design workshop to co-produce a totally new approach to management education—one that allows students to build their own learning journey through a curriculum that places ecology and social benefit at the heart of enterprise.

The framework we used was the Art of Mentoring (as distinct from the Art of Hosting), an approach that honours indigenous traditions by identifying the eight key roles that support a thriving community. This allowed a weeklong process to unfold by giving members of the hosting team clear roles and a sense of purpose and belonging. Self-management then became almost inevitable.

On this evening in Cloughjordan, however, we had no framework for the cooking process. Sure, we were all here on a Permaculture Design Course, but it was only day two, so we hadn’t really formed as a group. We didn’t really know whether we shared the same values and we definitely had not agreed upon a group process.

What happened arose from our collective psyche. More and more, I am seeing an intuitive, innate capacity to cooperate, to go with the flow. It feels very different from the competitive, dog-eat-dog world that I was raised in.

Every year I co-facilitate a university workshop on global responsibility in Hamburg, Germany. Every year I see this way of working emerge organically. Energy waiting to be released is given a creative outlet. People blossom. They offer suggestions, let them merge into the group process, and then smile as a better outcome evolves.

It’s true I have seen it falter too. This year’s trip to Hamburg was traumatic. We walked into the middle of a painful rift between the local students (about one-third of the class) and the international students. The tensions and challenges of the mass influx of refugees into Europe seemed to be playing out in our classroom.

What followed was an exceptional session where tears flowed freely, people spoke from the heart and a process of witnessing played out. Trauma called in healing and I was called to be a part. It was the strangest feeling—having no plan and being guided instead by a movement beyond my control or understanding. Was there a guiding imperative? Healing? Truth? Love? I can’t quite say for sure. But something shifted for everyone involved.

So, where am I heading with this? What I witness is that we are entering a space where our intuitive capacity for deep collaboration makes sense. It creates a natural, organic process, especially for younger people, and has increasing avenues for expression.

It has limits. It can buckle under stress. But it can also re-emerge, once trauma has been replaced by healing, fear replaced by understanding, stress replaced by natural flow.

It may even be true to say that this is one of the prime forces shaping our global transformation. There is love, which manifests as generosity, compassion, joy. And there is this force for collaboration and community, which manifests as cooperation, creativity, and inclusion. Together, consciously and continuously working in tandem, they have the power to shape the future we dream of.