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The Center for




social scientists designing collaborative relationships—with the brain in mind

Clarity is crucial.

Don't avoid stress in collaborative spaces.
Learn how to use it for clarity.

Custom design a collaborative strategy based on trust, clarity and resiliency.

Focus large-group wisdom,
build organizational connection, and do it with no time to spare.

We deliver clarity.  Clarity delivers results.

"Collectively, we're all better versions of ourselves now, so our impact is infinitely more meaningful." A.J., CEO

Collaborative AwarenessTM
|kəˈlabərətiv  əˈwe(ə)rnis| noun

Two or more entities working in concert to create a continuous and nearly instant feedback loop of group knowledge, adaptability and growth.

In every relationship there are at least 3 Entities: You, Me and We. 


Optimal collaboration continually occurs when the knowledge and awareness of the We Entity, and how it is custom designed and developed, is simultaneously taken into consideration at the same level as each individual.


There is no one-size-fits-all because every We Entity is made up of different individuals, circumstances and timing. This is why a continuous and nearly instant feedback loop is critical to the on-going health of the collaboration.



Mindfully building and employing the neural networks that have evolved to keep us connected, takes us from groups of people working together, to a Collaboratively Aware We Entity that thrives and adapts in any given situation. 

Where we impact collaboration
  • Group Collaboration Coaching

  • Blueprint of We Collaboration Process facilitation

  • Conference keynoting 

  • Corporate culture engagement

  • Leadership development 

  • Team development

  • Conflict prevention

  • Community engagement

  • Stress management 

  • Strategic planning 

  • Diversity training

  • Large group facilitation for meetings and conferences

  • Executive and personal coaching

Collaborative Awareness

Want to know how to engage it?
Check out our Key Concepts for Collaborative Awareness

Safety Brain Icon NEW.png
Connected Brain Icon NEW.png

Safety Brain

Connected Brain

Our brains have two main functions that have emerged through millions of years of evolution ~ to connect us for growth, and to keep us safe.

We call these two modes the Connected Brain and the Safety Brain.


The development of our society has made the Safety Brain our first and main mode of interaction with the world. In keeping the Connected Brain as a secondary mode, we restrict our creativity, productivity, and resiliency—both individually and collaboratively.


It's time to learn how to quiet the Safety Brain and use it to access greater clarity, while allowing the Connected Brain to become our primary mode of interaction.

The Safety Brain has one job, no matter what it takes, to KEEP US SAFE. Typically, this is the first lens we use to see and interpret the world around us. It functions like an enormous filing cabinet. It is constantly comparing and analyzing what’s happening around us to everything we know from the past to determine if any experience threatens our safety. It then takes that information and projects it into the future.


Our Connected Brain’s main job is to do everything and anything to thrive as we meet our needs for energy, emotional connection, and growth. The Connected Brain has evolved to meet our needs through collaboration. It processes information in an intuitive manner and enables creativity and empathy, sidestepping our Safety Brain and our need to judge people or situations. It is the part of our brain that sees oneness over separation.

Your brain is the moderator
of your collaborations.

Safe Connected Brain

Get Started creating your own Blueprint of We Collaboration Documents within your organization, team, community, family, etc. Any number of people, in any type of relationship, can co-create the document and use it to evolve the relationship over time. 


Other Types of Blueprints:

You have a roommate that lives with you 24/7, and it’s called the Chatterbox in Your Head. The Blueprint of Me is a foundation and process, written by you, in order to create and maintain a healthy, mindful relationship with yourself.


The 1-page Organization Introduction Blueprint is used by many organizations to engage external relationships— from clients and suppliers to prospective employees and collaborating organizations. Read the Center for Collaborative Awareness Introduction Blueprint of We.   
We use this to begin all our business relationships and it also serves as our contracting process. Let us show you how to do the same, and bring people back into the legal process. 
Read more

Blueprint of We

A Blueprint of We is a co-created collaboration document written by the people involved, whether
2-20,000+. It enables you to custom design your relationship to really fit who you are and what you want to build together. It wires your brain for more connection and compassion and acts as a third party mediator when the need arises. The document you write together evolves and changes as you and the relationship evolve and change.


The Blueprint of We, created by The Center for Collaborative Awareness, is a collaboration process currently used in 100+ countries worldwide in many languages and cultures. From corporations, communities and non-profits to schools, families and couples, it is used to build, sustain, and transition collaborative relationships with trust and respect. It is often being used to replace or enhance traditional legal contracts.

The Blueprint of We

Collaboration Process

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Each person writes on these
5 Components of
a Blueprint of We
Collaboration Document 

A simple, elegant process holding complex people and situations.

Designing and Building
the Blueprint of We

Team•Project Collaboration Card Deck, Templates and Digital Content

Visual Video Intro
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Customer Care





— here are just a few —

The Blueprint of We is used by many...



Boards of Directors


"What if our agreements came from a place of love instead of fear?" @jeffkirschner

Flashlight in a Dark Cave

Using stress
for clarity.

Flashlight in a Dark Cave

Stress is like a blinding light in a dark cave.

You're stranded in the pitch black and someone comes upon you and shines a huge flashlight in your eyes.


At first it hurts like crazy and you push it away.


But if you calm yourself down a moment, you realize that the flashlight is actually your way out.


The people we collaborate with often show up as the flashlights that trigger us. Rather than getting irritated or angry, we can use that stress to get to clarity—clarity on what we want, what we value, what still needs to be custom designed...


Avoiding stress is not the answer.

Using it to find clarity is freedom.

Why people call us.

Story Spotlight

A global, pharmaceutical, 100+ member, virtual team deepened their client knowledge exchange and social connection to solve critical challenges and speed up client response times.

Once they knew and understood one another and the client more deeply, they began to create impromptu collaborations that were outside the bounds of hierarchical silos. More knowledge was available than they ever realized, which increased the speed of delivery.

A non-profit organization was able to expand to the next level because they engaged all stakeholders—internal and external—in a values-driven, strategic, large-group dialogue.

Many organizations thrive in the first two or three phases of growth, and leadership believes they are required to know the answers to what's next. Inviting the hearts and minds of all stakeholders to the conversation creates passion bounded by responsibility.

A well-funded start-up, that looked like they had it all together on paper, finally began to thrive when the
co-founders turned the volume down on the stress in their own heads.

Stress is not something to avoid, it's a messenger for clarity. We helped them use what triggered them for their own freedom and for further development of the business. The rest of the company breathed a huge sigh of relief!

A global financial institution adopted the Blueprint of We for their contracting process and it was their attorneys who fought to keep the penalty clause out of their contracts going forward. 

Once they experienced putting people back into their agreements, they were inspired to have more meaningful conversations regarding what they were co-creating with internal and external customers.

An intact team, who switched from working in one location to operating as a global, virtual team, increased connection and collaboration by Custom Designing their communication through the lens of their individual values. 
Building trust meant they turned down the volume on the Safety Brain and engaged more Connected Brain circuitry on a daily basis. “We had the conversations that mattered and built the trust necessary for our team to be adaptable while we were several time zones apart." 

A factory-based workforce adopted the tools and skills of Collaborative Awareness, while learning the neuroscience behind their interactions.

The supervisors and managers took the knowledge they gained about their interactions with one another to their work groups throughout the company. All through the organization people stepped up and showed true leadership regardless of job title or hierarchy. Understanding and changing the habit loops that run on autopilot enables more mindful one-to-one and group exchanges.

A healthcare business simultaneously built team connection, designed workflow systems, engaged new marketing efforts, and adopted a trust-based contracting approach by utilizing the Blueprint of We Collaboration Process.

Using the Blueprint of We as the foundation for their business enabled them to be more responsive to their customers. "Learning to custom design our relationships and processes on the fly is not a luxury anymore, but a necessity."

A school adopted the Blueprint of We Collaboration Process as a way to engage deeper levels of emotional intelligence. There are now relationship agreements between students, teachers, administrators, and parents, and within entire classrooms.

In growing each individual’s emotional and social intelligence, learning and growth is happening on several levels. Students now self-mediate conflict using their Blueprint and get back to a good place. The positive impacts continue to ripple into the community. 

Story Spotlight
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The people, the work, the timing are all highly specific
to each collaboration.

Custom Design


In a world where traditional roles and rules are either no longer applicable or don't fit the people involved, it is crucial that we Custom Design the:


  • relationships

  • processes

  • strategies 


to fit the specific people and circumstances. Rather than trying to squeeze into cultural norms, or mindlessly running autopilot habit loops of how it's always been done, we give you the tools to custom design your collaboration to increase adaptability, engagement, profitability, and trust.


Design your collaborations to accelerate what you've set out to do. 

  • agreements

  • timeframes and

  • measureables

Custom Design
CfCA Blueprint

A conversation begins with another organization, client, supplier, employee or volunteer, etc.
and they read our Organization Introduction Collaboration Document.

Next, we invite them to write their half, and the work begins.

This also serves as our legal contract; built with both people and process in mind.

This 1-page document is how we start every relationship in our organization— both internal and external.

The Center for



social scientists designing collaborative relationships—with the brain in mind

A Blueprint of We Collaboration Document between
The Center for Collaborative Awareness and You

It’s important to us to build a healthy relationship with you from the start. We do this by creating a Blueprint of We Collaboration Document. The following is our half of that document, and we invite you to write your half of these 5 Components:

1. The Story of Us Who we are and the passion behind why we do what we do
     Our organization is made up of individuals who are passionate about creating effortless, resilient and creative relationships. Creating Blueprint of We Collaboration Documents, such as this one, have dramatically altered the way we do business because we start our relationships from a deeper level of conversation and connection. This more quickly moves people to clear action, accesses everyone’s creative mind, and builds trust from the start; accelerating what we can accomplish together. 

     Our exciting, increasingly complex world now goes beyond self awareness and demands Collaborative Awareness; the ability to quiet our safety brains that get hijacked by stress, custom design what will be done together, and expand our understanding and definition of We. Opportunities to collaborate are becoming less traditional, requiring individuals and organizations to mindfully design new tools, structures and definitions for working together. That’s the knowledge and space we hold for others, and we’re exceptionally good at it. 

We are at the cutting edge of innovation in both big and small ways, embracing the exponential learning and transformation that arises when we mindfully and collaboratively build our relationships and our Blueprint of We. 


2. Interaction Styles & Warning Signs How we get our best work done

  • Clarity is crucial. Questions are encouraged.

  • We are most energized by working with people who are willing to be open-minded.

  • If something feels off, we’ll be the first to mention it. We ask that you do the same. 

  • What you experience with us might at times push the boundaries of typical business models. We ask you to be willing to stretch and give us feedback along the way. We are open to taking risks in partnership with you because we build such strong relationships at the start.

  • It’s important that we’re all having fun doing this work! Our brains are wired to work better that way.

3. Custom Design What we value as a lens through which we custom design our collaborations

  • Every individual comes into every situation with a level of expectation. We want to know your expectations and we will always share ours on an on-going basis. By checking in and asking questions of one another, we don’t rely on assumptions and we can better serve one another and the work at hand.

  • It’s important to us that we make conscious choices around what we are creating together. We depend on open and continual communication to do so.

  • Our most important goal is to stay in an open, collaborative space - no matter what. It’s something we relentlessly pursue.

  • We’d like to agree that each of us can ask for everything, always. Don’t censor yourself as we’re always interested to see if we can do what you ask. On the flip side, we ask that we all agree to always authentically say our truthful yes or no when the other asks. 

  • If it appears that what we’ve designed for you is not working, come talk to us. We typically have solid reasons for our approach, but maybe we need to communicate them more thoroughly.

4. Questions for Peace & Possibility Accelerating clarity through curiosity 

     We have chosen to create this Blueprint of We because our intention is to lead a graceful life. Yet at the same time we want to acknowledge that life can appear imperfect. If for some reason things get off track, we commit to having a conversation to bring the situation back to a peaceful place and we ask that you do the same. The following possible questions can be used to get us back to peace after all parties have re-read this document to re-orient ourselves with the positive aspects of our work together:


  • Do each of us feel we’re getting what we anticipated? Is there something that’s no longer working for one or both of us?

  • What do we most appreciate about the work we’ve done together so far? 

  • Is there something difficult we’re avoiding saying or doing? 

  • What’s really working for us right now? How can we expand on that?

  • What do we gain by continuing/ending this work together? 


5. Short & Long-Term Timeframes Our commitment not to avoid stress, but use it for clarity and movement

     Once we create a joint Blueprint of We, we can collaboratively choose how often to review and update our document as our relationship progresses.

     Like a pebble in your shoe, it’s crucial that even the littlest stress is brought to the surface and addressed. We propose our Short-Term Timeframe to be 24 hours. We will go no longer than a day before we use the stress were experiencing to have a conversation to get clarity. We propose our Long-Term Timeframe to be 1 year. We also agree that if the unimaginable happens, and the people involved can’t seem to come together to go over this document, we commit to being respectful of everyone involved as we each move forward.


We’ve created the Blueprint of We as a way to place our relationships with others above all other business concerns. We want to nurture them and enable them to grow rich and healthy, which positively impacts the bottom line of both your organization and ours.

Your Colleagues at the Center for Collaborative Awareness

How do we do this fast-paced dance without stepping on each other’s toes? 

Interchangeable Dance of Leader
& Follower

Traditional rules of hierarchy are blurring everywhere. We’re experiencing the unstructured dance of 5, 10 and 10,000 people with no clear way forward. Who’s the boss when you’re online at two o’clock in the morning clicking from website to website? Or a natural disaster wipes out your community’s water supply? There are no clear ground rules, no true arbiters of style, overseers of cultural norms, or definitive chain of command.


In this new world, where “the way it’s always been” is often thrown out the window, what would happen if the two of us got up to dance? If the rule of “man leads, woman follows” doesn’t exist, how do you avoid pushing and pulling each other across the floor in frustration, ultimately leading one of us to say, “I’ve had enough?”


To make it work, we need to step back and ask ourselves, “What dances do I know? When should I lead and when should I follow?” Then we need to exchange that information, ask some clarifying questions, and custom design the way we’ll work together. This ever-changing dance will be effortless, as long as we know ourselves and one another, and pay close attention to what does and doesn’t work to continually course correct.

Interchangeable Dance
  • Systems Thinking Design

  • Mindfulness - Scientists define mindfulness as taking control of your attention and using an attitude of curiosity, openness, and embracing.

  • The Work of Byron Katie

  • Appreciative Inquiry - Read our interview in the International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry

  • unConference Facilitation

  • WiserTogether - Multigenerational Collaboration

  • Insights - a Jungian based tool for self and Collaborative Awareness 

  • Genuine Contact Program

  • Spiral Dynamics

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Graphic Facilitation - Using images to record your meetings and events

  • Cultural Transformation Tools - Barrett Values Centre 

  • Meditation

  • Dialogue and Deliberation

  • Dynamic Facilitation

  • WorldBlu - Championing the growth of democratic organizations worldwide.  

  • Sociocracy, Holocracy - Collaborative Governance Models 

  • Non-Violent/Compassionate Communication

  • Difficult Conversations

  • Design Thinking

  • Rapid Prototyping

  • Agile Learning

  • LEAN Start-up

Collaborative Tools

"They helped us create the conditions for mindful collaboration."  @pictureframes

Collaborative Tools

Open Space Meeting Facilitation

World Cafe Large Group Dialogue

Other Collaborative Tools and Methods We Engage

World Café is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, sharing knowledge and creating possibilities for action in groups of any size.


Café Conversations are one way that communities, businesses, governments, and people from all walks of life create a common purpose, share knowledge, make more intelligent decisions, and call forth life-affirming action together.


The methodology of the World Café is simple:

  • The environment is set up like a café, with small tables, tablecloths covered by poster paper, flowers, markers and, if possible, candles, quiet music and refreshments.

  • People sit three to four to a table and have a series of 3 conversational rounds lasting from 20 to 45 minutes each about questions which are personally meaningful.

  • At the end of each round, one person remains at each table as the host, while each of the other three travel to separate tables. Table hosts welcome newcomers to their tables and share the essence of that table's conversation so far. The newcomers relate any conversational threads which they are carrying — and then the conversation continues, deepening as the rounds progress.

  • After three rounds, the whole group gathers to share and explore emerging themes, insights, and learnings. These are captured in order to make the collective intelligence of the whole group visible to everyone, so they can reflect on what is emerging in the room. 

 Open Space works best when:

  • the work to be done is complex

  • the people and ideas involved are diverse

  • the passion for ideas and resolution (and even potential for conflict) are high

  • and the time to get it done was yesterday


Participants create and manage their own agenda around a central theme of strategic importance, such as:

What is the plan of action that all stakeholders in the organization can support and work together to create?
How can we re-ignite passion in our company and look forward to building a future that engages all?

Why does World Cafe work? 

As we engage networks of human systems with compelling questions in a shared network of conversation, intelligence emerges as the system connects to itself in diverse and creative ways, and the future is born with all the collective wisdom and resources we need.

Other Collaborative Tools

You’ve been to your fair share of meetings and conferences where you either leave uninspired, or you’re energized while you’re there, but the energy fails to translate long term back at the office.


Open Space replaces traditional meeting methods and brings life back to the organization and the organization back to life.


Open Space enables all kinds of people, in any type of organization, to create inspired communities, where ordinary people work together to create extraordinary results with regularity.


Open Space can be scheduled for 3 hours to 3+ days, and can include 5 to 2500+ people

A Quick Tour Through an Open Space Meeting

Think globally.

Act internally.

the Mind

In order to conserve the disproportionate amount of energy our brain requires, it has become an excellent meaning-making machine that projects our stories into the future. Our brain really wants us to be convinced that it's protecting us when it tells us a stressful story. Yet when you stop a moment and remove yourself from the eye of your own storm, you begin to see that what your brain tells you is not always true. Collaborations benefit when the mind of each individual is clean and clear.

We teach individuals how to question their own mind first, so that collaborating with others, and the world, is a lot healthier and more productive.


With an elegantly simple process called The Work, we pause the autopilot habit loops running in our brains so that we can mindfully create a new neural pathway about the same topic that is less stressful and more life-giving. Now people have an option of choosing peace or stress in any given moment. Stress is no longer an automatic reaction to fast-paced collaboration, or to people who operate differently than they do. More clarity and less judgment happen on a daily basis. 

Questioning the Mind

Stay Updated

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social scientists designing collaborative relationships— with the brain in mind
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Maureen and Zelle

Co-Founders • Co-Directors

Maureen K. McCarthy and Zelle Nelson

Maureen K. McCarthy

The year Maureen McCarthy was told she would die young from a rare, genetic lung disease, she lost her business partner and her business, while also coming out of her ten-year marriage. Out of these major life events, Maureen became a living example of effortless relationship; at work and at home. Maureen is a true pioneer and visionary in the study of business relationships and the brain. She is Co-Director of the Center for Collaborative Awareness in Asheville, NC and Co-creator of the Blueprint of We Collaboration Process—used worldwide to build and sustain healthier, more resilient business and personal relationships in groups large and small. Maureen has worked across the globe with organizations and corporations from Astra Zeneca to the World Relief Organization, and with many communities to create vibrant leaders, inspire new ways of working together, and show us how to self facilitate mutually respectful relationships in the midst of rapid change. She has facilitated large group dialogues in many countries for a wide range of corporations, communities and non-profit organizations and is the co-author of the upcoming book titled Collaborative Awareness: How to Thrive in Fast-paced Collaboration.


Through dynamic keynote speaking and global management consulting, Maureen shares her insights into how we as human beings survive, and ultimately thrive, in relationship with ourselves and others. She changes the perspectives and lives of every person who hears her stories, and you walk away with the tools to live a more effortless day-to-day existence, no matter how diverse the people and circumstances around you. Learning from Maureen is life altering.

Zelle Nelson

Zelle Nelson is Co-Director of the Center for Collaborative Awareness in Asheville , NC and Co-creator of the Blueprint of We Collaboration Process—used worldwide to grow and sustain healthier, more resilient business and personal relationships, making our day-to-day interactions effortless and our time together more creative and productive.


In a world that changes in increasingly complex ways, making the old ground rules no longer reliable, we are being called to experience dynamic growth in groups. Zelle teaches others to re-imagine the conditions in which individuals and organizations access and experience Collaborative Awareness. He is passionate about understanding the neuroscience of our Connected Brain and Safety Brain so that we can have the conversations that matter to better custom design our life and work. He is the co-author of the upcoming book titled Collaborative Awareness: How to Thrive in Fast-paced Collaboration.


Zelle is a gifted business entrepreneur, social scientist, writer, and facilitator. He has built an extraordinary life with his wife and business partner, Maureen K. McCarthy, which encompasses both business and family. If you want to be deeply known and understood by others, take the opportunity to spend time with Zelle.

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Where we're located:

Asheville, North Carolina, USA

Our clients are all over the globe.

The Blue Ridge Mountains just off the Blue Ridge Parkway

— which are the oldest mountains on planet Earth.

Contact Us
The Center for




social scientists designing collaborative ecosystems—with the brain in mind

The Center for Collaborative Awareness


(+1) 847-859-9046


skype: collaborativeawareness


2021 Greenville Hwy.

Flat Rock, NC 28731 


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