Can you define collaboration

perhaps but it won't help you produce it in your team!

Wikipedia makes an attempt at defining “Collaboration”. It comes from the Latin 'co' meaning 'with' and 'labore' meaning 'to work' and means 'to work together'.

Trying to define collaboration

However wikipedia neatly sidesteps the questıon by suggesting that more research ıs required to answer questions like:

  • How does collaboration differ from cooperation?

  • What qualifies as a collaboration?

  • What are the defining principals or elements of this process?

One of the barriers to collaboration is the very word itself - in many places, such as France, the UK and Ireland, the word is loaded with negativity from its wartime meanıng of "traitorous cooperation with the enemy".

So it seems to me that a definitional approach to collaboration is unlikely to help us much in trying to produce good collaboration in our teams.

What about good and bad collaboration?

Perhaps it is more useful to identify what is good and what is bad collaboration.

In another article, When collaboration goes bad, I review work by Harvard Professor David Perkins on his idea of 'organisational intelligence' which when lacking in a team or group leads to 'coblaboration' instead of collaboration.

Perkins also suggests three tests for coblaboration.

It is sometimes easier to see the symptoms of collaboration

Another approach is to try and understand collaboration by looking at contrasts in a number of domains:

At one end of the spectrum how do things look if collaboration is absent?

And at the opposite end of the spectrum how does the situation look if collaboration is present?

  1. Doing Things
    Absent: Solo with collaboration on review
    Present: Group scoping and development
  2. New Ideas & Innovation
    Absent: Linear and Incremental approach
    Present: Non-linear and Quantum
  3. Conflict Resolution
    Absent: Formal, slow and late to be spotted
    Present: Informal, fast and raised early
  4. Problem Solving
    Absent: Symptoms only addressed for quick resolution
    Present: Causes examined even if disruptive
  5. Conversations and Communication
    Absent: Non-disclosive and safe
    Present: Disclosive but risky and messy
  6. Opportunities and Business Development
    Absent: Narrow focus/ direct-interest only
    Present: Broad focus / mutual reciprocity

So its perhaps better not to try and define collaboration but to ask yourself to what extent you see evidence of its fruits in these (and other) domains of your team's operation.

If you assign numeric scores to each of these six domains you can easily create a quick 'collaboration signature' for your team.

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