What is collaboration?

What exactly is collaboration?

It seems to have adopted some Holy Grail-like quality in business and yet no-one seems to know what it means.

Everyone thinks it’s a good thing, and we need more of it, but very few seem to know how to get more. Or even how much we have now.

Is it 

– people sitting together in an open plan office?

– business people passing leads to each other?

– people in a meeting room discussing what to do?

– working together on a Google doc?

– a stream of Slack messages debating a problem or an idea?

– a chain of widely-copied emails arguing about the latest corporate policy?

– yet another Town Hall meeting on Zoom?

Is ‘Collaborative Work’, as stated in a recent HBR article, “time spent on email, IM, phone, and video calls”?

Or is it 

– people standing in front of a white board writing on post-it notes?

– doing the same thing on Miro?

– people joining their offerings together to meet a client need?

– one person doing work for another as a sub-contractor?

– several people working on different parts of a process, handing the work from one to the next?

Or is it just one person working with some other people?

Has ‘Collaboration’ become meaningless buzzword, a label lazily applied when we mean ‘more than one person working’ in order to make it seem more important and valuable than it really is?

Has it become a way of justifying the unjustifiable (i.e. the return to the office) by pretending it is where this Holy Grail can be found?

You see, I think collaboration is when people come together to create something they could not do on their own, something that would not exist unless they combined their talents. With the added caveats that they do so on an equal basis and of their own volition, so that power is shared.

It requires trust, relationship building, respect and humility. And it doesn’t happen very often.

So I understand why it’s become to be seen as extremely desirable and valuable. 

But if we can’t even agree on what it is, then we’ve got little chance of making it happen.

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