decorative repetitive doodle illustration called OOberdoodle

Being in Cahoots

Being “in cahoots” tends to have a bad name. The word “cahoots” is derived from the French word cahute, meaning “cabin” or “hut.” It implies that two or more people are hidden away working together in secret. Bandits in the old Westerns were usually in cahoots to rob the town bank. Think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and the Hole in the Wall gang. According to dictionaries, wider definitions of being in cahoots include…

  • entering into an alliance, partnership, or league
  • being unified, allied, affiliated, pooled, banded
  • conspiring activity of people up to no good.

For my purposes here, I have cheerfully broadened those definitions to include…

  • individuals, groups and/or organizations collaborating for the greater good.

Then there’s the word “group” itself. It refers to a collection of people who have something in common. The group may be a team, crowd, party, troupe, swarm, bunch, assembly, herd, band, mob, brood, class, throng, cluster, flock, lot, collection, pack, horde, gathering, or aggregation. Groups take different forms depending on their purpose: celebrating a birthday, gathering for a funeral, rooting for a favorite team, attending a business meeting, or participating in a public demonstration. People waiting for a bus or subway may be a group, but aren’t in cahoots. If they are, they’d be a Flash Mob.

The potential for cahootness depends on your position in your organization and your autonomy within it. Start-ups are high in cahootability. Government bureaucracies and medical offices are understandably low. Shared work spaces are mixed, as are the boards of directors and staffs of nonprofits, and family gatherings. And they all have their own collaboration challenges.

The most challenging yet most rewarding groups are those drawn together, not necessarily for financial gain, but for a larger purpose—for the common good. Especially those working against daunting odds, from supporting those who are homeless, to those forcing attention to social injustice or climate change. With effort and deliberate intention, collaborative relationships can and have been forged between all sorts of unlikely groups: public authorities, citizens, community focused nonprofit organizations, government agencies, businesses, and schools.

Being in cahoots catalyzes the collective imagination into action.

When are you in cahoots? When you’re planning a surprise birthday party, a potluck, or a neighborhood garage sale?  Do you join in demonstrations to support something you believe in? Sometimes being in cahoots is fun. Sometimes it’s just shenanigans. Sometimes it’s hard work. Depending on the circumstances, collaboration is labor intensive and tedious, if not downright boring. Sometimes contentious.

Being in cahoots requires patience, wisdom, and commitment; the conviction that the benefits outweigh the effort. Mostly, it requires that we invite others into the process. We all bring different skills to contribute to the effort. Those skills need to be honored, not scorned.

When you’re in cahoots with others, how do you want to be treated? We all know that answer to that one. But, what are you willing to do to be treated that way? Those questions always lead to a discussion of respect—and what it looks like to you. What long held assumptions are you willing to challenge for the good of the cause? What engrained habits are you willing to curb for the greater good? Gaining that awareness is what In Cahoots is all about.

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