Is defining collaboration useful

OK so you may be able to define collaboration, but will it help you achieve it?


Wikipedia makes an attempt at defining “Collaboration” which it offers with a 'health warning' - The factual accuracy of this article is disputed.

Collaboration comes from the Latin 'co' meaning 'with' and 'labore' meaning 'to work' and means 'to work together'.

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

  • How does collaboration differ from cooperation?

  • What qualifies as a collaboration?

  • What are the defining principles 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 meaning 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.

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. Developing Documents
    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

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

So perhaps it may be 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.


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