We're not all on the same page when it comes to collaboration. Getting the definition straight is a good place to start to become an effective collaborator.
Collaborate – a word that's banded about a lot these days. We're expected to be collaborative, to work collaboratively, and to foster a collaborative culture. Some of us think we are doing it, or at least should be. Some of us think we don't need to or it's not worth doing. Maybe we've tried it before and it didn't work out. But a lot of us don't really know what it is, what's it's for, or how to do it well.
So, let's start with what it is and what's it for.
Collaborate – from the Latin col- 'together' and laborare 'to work', 'collaboration' is a process or way of working between two or more people
Collaborators have committed to working together to achieve a shared outcome, but each will usually have other priorities and responsibilities that do not align
An entire project might be a collaboration, or specific tasks might be achieved in a collaborative way
Working in a collaborative way means that there is no ‘leader’ – differences need to be resolved collectively
The responsibilities of each collaborator do not have to be equal
Collaboration can develop from, or transition into, other ways of achieving outcomes
Successful collaboration requires emotional engagement, mutual respect and encouraged negotiation
It is not the same as partnership, which generally describes a legal or contractual relationship between two or more parties each with joint rights and responsibilities. And it's not the same as teamwork. Teams need to work closely together to achieve a shared outcome. Teams need someone with authority to resolve disputes, ensure coordinated action and change the team dynamic if necessary. Good partnerships and teams require cooperation, i.e. working with or helping each other to achieve a particular purpose.
A good way of understanding the difference between cooperation and collaboration is to think about ideas. When you cooperate you share ideas in a group, when you collaborate you generate ideas as a group. But you do not have to be partners or in a team to collaborate and partners and teams do not have to collaborate to be successful. So, every desired outcome isn't necessarily best achieved by working collaboratively.
But if you want to find the best creative outcome for an issue by working with a diverse group of people using an open and inclusive process, then collaboration is for you.
The how isn't necessarily easy. To collaborate well, there are useful principles, ways of thinking, conditions that make it easier, methods you can use, and ways to measure success. But the main thing is that, now that you're clearer on what collaboration is and what it's for, you've decided you want to collaborate.
In future blogs I'll be describing the benefits of collaboration and showing you how to be an effective collaborator.