What makes for effective Collaborative Practice?  The author shares thoughts gleaned from a personal journey.


I recently travelled to the place I was born, Omaha, NE, to visit my father, to attend my 35th High School Reunion, and to meet with members of the Collaborative Practice Nebraska practice group to learn about the state of Collaborative Practice in my hometown.

Going Home.

This trip proved to be fertile ground indeed, so much so that I have organized my thoughts into three parts.  This one is about doing the little things.

I had a chance encounter in Omaha with a young woman named Deb, the receptionist for Kelle Westland, the IACP member with whom I was meeting along with Chris Lustgarten.  When I came in to the office and introduced myself Deb mentioned that she knew me.  I inquired further and she explained that when she was 14 years old (I was 17) she played with my younger sister on the Opera Omaha Angels girls’ softball team.  My father and I coached this team, the only year we coached together.

Deb and I recalled that little was expected of the Angels that year.  While I grew up playing Little League baseball in Omaha and knew something about the process of tryouts and how teams were chosen, the fact was that it was our first year managing a team and returning managers were for the most part unwilling to share their evaluations of the talent pool from which we were selecting.  As a result, during the draft we drew some snickers with our selections, along with expressions of thanks from managers drafting after us as they gleefully selected a player they thought we should have selected.

We were fully expected to come in last place.  For the majority of the season the “established” managers and players in the league treated us with disdain and as “lesser” members of the league.

As managers my Father and I had different skills but the same approach to coaching.  Rather than focusing on “winning”, or on finding value in proving the league wrong in its view of the Angels, from day one we focused on “Team”.  Working as a Team, we worked with each individual to develop the skills they brought to the Team and to help them develop others.  We worked hard, repeating over and over again in words and in action that if we did the little things well, success would be possible.  We set a high bar for the girls, making no task or skill impossible to attain without hard work and mindfulness of the task at hand.

Our united message was that the successful execution of the little things creates the opportunity for the best result to happen and a high level of satisfaction reached.

Did the Angels go undefeated that year?  No.  We lost badly in some games.  In other games, we may have played well and lost because of an unfortunate call by an umpire, bounce of the ball or because the other team executed better that day.  Then there were games we played really poorly and still won.

Regardless of the result, after every game we took the time to consider what went well in the game, what did not, and what each of us could have done better, whether Manager, Coach, or Player.  As the season progressed, the win – loss record lost importance, skills improved and the rewards experienced by the team grew exponentially.

Not everyone on the Angels liked this approach.  The turning point of the Angels’ season involved a player that we chose early in the draft, someone who ordinarily would be one of our top players.  This player did not buy-in to our approach.  She had probably heard for years that she was talented and entitled to special consideration and star and no Manager or Coach had addressed this issue with her in the past.  In her own 14 year old way she was obstinate and lazy, unwilling to do the little things and commit to the hard work it would take for her to realize the talent that was inside her.

This was the only Team conflict my father and I had all year.  The girl was becoming a problem for the Angels.  Here we were teaching hard work and the need to focus on the little things and one of the players that we played every inning of every game not only refused to model the hard work we were asking of everyone else, she openly scoffed at it.

As a little league baseball player I had experienced this personality many times.  Usually it was the “Coach’s son”, the one who felt entitled not to run the bases or do everything directed by his father.  Often these players would be in open revolt of the efforts of their father to institute team standards and while the rest of us were following instructions in the hope of getting our own playing time, the “Coach’s son” always knew that regardless of how poorly he acted that his father would not retaliate by taking away playing time lest the son went home and told his Mother.

When the situation on the Angels did not improve I suggested to my father that we take our star player and sit her on the bench at the start of the game and only play her the two innings required of each player on the team.  I recall that my father’s initial, instinctual, and visceral reaction was honest and direct: “If we do we have no chance of winning.”

He was quick, however, to work through his own reticence.  We both knew that by continuing to play this player that we were not walking the walk and talking the talk that we expected of the Angels.  It was time for us to take responsibility for our own actions.

So we sat this player.  She did not start.  She did not play more than two innings per game.  We explained to her that our decision was based on the fact that others were giving more of an effort at practices and that, when she showed the same effort, we would revisit the decision.

Some of the Angels were stunned.  More than one girl, my little sister included, quietly came up to us and said we had no chance to win without this player playing full time, that we would be embarrassed as a Team, and asked us to reconsider.  Others Angels, however, responded with a burst of energy, determination and enthusiasm, as if they had just been waiting for this move to be made.

The response of the Angel parents, however, was consistent.  Many parents approached my father to say thank you, that their daughter was having fun, improving so much with the Angels, and that they were being acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work.

The only parents that responded negatively to the move were the parents of the player we chose to sit.  I can still visualize the after-game lashing administered by them on my father (obviously I was too young to be given credit for having suggested the move), and my father’s standing up to the onslaught while explaining that if their daughter committed to do the work that everyone else was doing on the team the situation had a chance of changing.

Deb recalled all this.  Other than talking to my sister about the Angels over the years I had not talked to one of the players about what they experienced of the team.

We also reminisced that with all the hard work and the emphasis on the little things that the Angels lost the league championship in extra innings, on the last pitch in the last at bat of the other team, who played just a little bit better than us that day.  The tears that all of us shed that day celebrated our accomplishment as a Team, not dismay at losing the game.

Deb commented that the experience of playing on that Team has stayed with her for all of her life.

A memory to have unexpectedly reawakened upon entering a law office in Omaha, Nebraska, and a wonderful story to have been part of and to revisit.

And what does this remembrance have to do with Collaborative Practice?  Pretty much everything.



Creating the Collaborative Team is an intentional act, just like the draft of the Angel softball team.  Each person brings different skills to the Team.  Sometimes the clients are the ones who bring the professional team to their case.  Other times it is the Professionals who, with the intention of putting together a Team that best suits the clients, are tasked with building the team.  In this process is the acknowledgment that each professional has different experiences, temperament, education and training that they bring with them and that they are being added not only for their individual strength, but to make the Team stronger.


The “players” are our clients.  We take our clients where they are, not where we want them to be.  We work with them to build individual skills that will help the Collaborative process.  We assign them tasks that only they can do themselves and, when done by them doing the little things, will stay with them throughout the process and beyond.


Just as other members of the softball league treated the Angels as second-class citizenry, Collaborative Practice has gone through a period where it has been looked upon with derision and scorn, laughed at and dismissed.  Despite what some would describe as a hostile environment, Collaborative Practice is flourishing.


Just as the Angels reviewed their performance after every game, in our Collaborative Cases we review our own performance, actions and thoughts.  We value and create flexibility in the work we do to continue to make our container a fertile ground for accomplishment.


A Collaborative case is similar to any sporting event: while we can predict an outcome, we do not know and cannot guarantee a certain result.   We have to let the case play itself out and in doing so there are many variables that can have an impact on the result.  Do the professionals work well individually and as a Team?  Do the clients connect with the process and are they able to do what is necessary for them to get to a place where they can create a resolution?  All we can do is enter into the process knowing that our skills as professionals are such that we can address anything that comes up whether with the professional team or the Team as a whole.


The goal is to create a container where the clients experience an environment that allows for success and satisfaction.  Just like a sporting event, when we ”take the field” we do not know the final score, only that if we do everything we practiced that we have a better chance for success.  We have all had, or will have, cases where we did the little things well and the clients did not reach a resolution, or reached a resolution but were not satisfied with the process or outcome, and others where members of the team were not in fine form but the clients reached a resolution both satisfying and fulfilling of their high end goals for themselves and their spouse.


A successful Collaborative case does not require that there be a “star” professional on the team.  In fact, Collaborative practice is not about anyone being a “star” and it is not about “playing time.”   Even the most recent entrant into Collaborative Practice, if they focus on the “little things” and the work it takes to be a quality practitioner, can do a case with Stu Webb, Ron Ousky, Pauline Tesler, Woody Mosten, Peggy Thompson and any other Collaborative Practitioner.


Just like the conversation we had with our “star” player on the Omaha Opera Angels, difficult conversations in Collaborative cases must not be ignored.  If ignored, the unstated feelings are going to fester and negatively impact the Team.  Having the difficult conversation can only help the Collaborative process and, in all likelihood, help the participants who have the conversation.


Finally, when my father and I managed and coached the Omaha Opera Angels we knew that it was all about the girls.  They were teenagers voluntarily taking part in an activity that they enjoyed doing.  It was not about my father, wins, the parents, or me.

Is Collaborative work any different?
……..It is all about the clients.
…………In order for us to put our clients first,
…………………we commit to collaborative excellence
……………………….by doing the “little things” that make us better at the work we do.


Kevin R. Scudder is a 1983 graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and of the University of Washington School of Law (1986). Since 1995 he has been working in Seattle, Washington as a sole practitioner with an emphasis on family law and estate planning. Kevin started his Collaborative work in 2007 and since then has been working to develop and refine his skills as a peacemaker within the collaborative model as a Mediator and Collaborative Attorney. Kevin was an Assistant Trainer for Woody Mosten for his January, 2012 40-hour Basic Mediation Training in Los Angeles, CA, presented on Best Practices at the CPW Annual Conference in Gig Harbor, WA in 2011, presented his Anatomy of An Elevator Speech at the 2012 IACP Forum in Chicago, IL., and has been part of the IACP Practice Group Development Committee presentations at the Chicago and upcoming San Antonio Forum.  Kevin can be reached at www.scudderlaw.net.