One of the most used words in business articles, journals and professional social media networks is the desire to develop “collaborative” environments and cultures. But what is it?
If you web search for images for “collaboration”, you will get lots on teamwork. so is collaboration just another word for teamwork?
I for one don’t. I believe that teamwork contributes to a short term goal, but collaboration is more “strategic” and long term in nature.
Let’s look at some common definitions:
Noun: The action of working with someone to produce or create something.
Something produced or created in this way.
Synonyms: cooperation – contribution
Collaboration is working with each other to do a task. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals
In the context of business, organizational development and change, these definitions do not help us.
The definition which for me adds a new dimension beyond that of “teamwork” is:
to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected
source Oxford English Dictionaries
Harvard Business Review
Andrew Campbell of the Harvard Business Review wrote a great blog titled “Collaboration Overused and Misunderstood” Suggests that we often get Teamwork and collaboration confused:
- Actions are interdependent, but they are fully committed to a single result.
- Needs to reach joint decisions about many aspects of their work, and they will be cautious about taking unilateral action without checking with each other to make sure there are no negative side effects.
- Have someone with the authority to resolve disputes, ensure coordinated action and remove disruptive or incompetent members.
- Will have some shared goals, but they often also have competing goals. Also, the shared goal is usually only a small part of their responsibilities.
- Cannot rely on a leader to resolve differences.
- Cannot walk away from each other when they disagree.
Why have the differentiation?
If we take all words to mean the same, we end up confusing people. In 2013 and beyond we have tools and attitudes which can enable us to work differently than ever before. To harness the power of our wider connected communities on an “as an when” basis. Teamwork on the other hand, can help us harness the power of a common, tangible goal.
Collaboration is about community
If teamwork is about harnessing resources to achieve a goal, collaboration is about the wider population supporting people when they need it. Supporting people outside our teams, functions or companies. For several years now communities of practice or social communities on various social media sites, forums and sites like LinkedIn have empowered people to reach out and get help from a wider audience. There is no direct reward or recognition for this activity, beyond that warm feeling of helping a fellow professional.
Harness the power of communities in-house
We know from the power of LinkedIn groups that people share and in effect help “the competition” but what about harnessing this sense of community internally for competitive advantage. Certainly this is of greater advantage to larger firms or collectives, but all firms can benefit, certainly if you don’t do this even at a most basic of levels you will be missing a strategic advantage
Seeing collaboration differently
We need to look beyond the teamwork and single goal, we need to look to the “greater good”. We need to encourage people with certain skills to share theirt knowledge with people beyond their immediate team, and business goal for strategic advantage of the organisation as a whole.
Real organizational barriers to effective collaboration
The real barrier for effective collaboration are individual based performance management systems. For to add the piece of magic that can unlock £££or $$$ for the business, it may mean an individual or tow missing on achieving their personal target. That personal target may add £1 to the bottom line, but the solution they provided through collaboration activities could have created $1000s of income for another part of the business. It is a real leap of faith.
Short term vs Long term
Done well, effective teamwork is sustainable for short to medium term only. The group and personality dynamics will change (Tuckman), making managing an effective team a dynamic and difficult task in the long term,
Collaboration however is as much an attitude as it is skills, and is sustainable in the longer term. Collaboration in the “external” view is not a short term fix. It takes time to build-up trust and understanding, not to mention developing the connections that make the collaboration strategy really work and add value. That is not to say that collaboration cannot solve short term issues, it can and does everyday, but achieving the trust and relationships needs takes time.
One thing I hope readers take away is the Oxford Dictionary definition:
Collaboration… To cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected – for this can help managers and leaders start to understand the real difference for competitive advantage
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