We were sitting around the table trying to figure out how to get a new data management system to work. One person shared that initially it was going to be more work for those using it, but the net result of the new system would result in better decision-making and better allocation of resources. As I listened to the group work through the challenges of implementation, those gathered kept using the words “team work” and “collaboration”.
When asked what I thought of their plan, I reminded them that I believe teamwork is an intra-group activity and that collaboration is an inter-group activity. As I explained, “I think there are stages to collaboration that are just like team building and your plan is not working through the different stages.”
During the summer 2015, everyone started using the word “collaboration”. In the fall of 2015, I started watching, listening and visiting with leaders about it. In the winter 2016, I tried to capture the pattern of collaboration as I saw it. And finally at the Spring 2016 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I shared my thoughts about how to increase effective collaboration.
Upon further reflection, I am noticing three words are surfacing around the discussion of team work and collaboration. Here are the three words and their dictionary definitions:
- Cooperation: the actions of someone who is being helpful by doing what is wanted or asked for.
- Teamwork: the work done by people who work together as a team to do some thing, and the work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.
- Collaboration: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.
People use these three words interchangeably in conversation even though they each have different meanings.
What intrigues me this morning is what these words have in common and yet are different. The key is that each produces a different level of outcomes. For example, cooperation is interpersonal in nature, i.e. one to one at the personal level and thus creates interpersonal synergy, e.g. 1+1 has the potential to be greater than 2. On the other hand, teamwork is intra-team, i.e. my part + all of our parts has the potential to be greater than the team. This is collective synergy and yields collective results. Finally, collaboration is inter-teams, i.e. your group + my group and results in holistic synergy. Here we experience the moment when we become part of a single system, and a single culture. In essence, when we collaborate we become part of a single entity, the company as a whole. What follows collaboration is a specific purpose that is greater than the individual, the team, and the multiple parts/groups of the company
In simple terms, the collaboration continuum is as follows:
1. Isolation - there is no need to communicate with others and we only share with others as needed.
2. Consultation - we seek perspective from others. Then, we take the parts that we like, and the parts that cause the least amount of disruption to the organization or ourself. In the end, we do what we want to do.
3. Coordination - we work together to get something done. It begins with an “I plan; you plan” mentality and moves into coordinated action.
4. Collaboration - this starts with joint analysis which includes the agreement about what is the problem, and then moves into planning and execution. The stages are the following:
- a. there is a compelling reason to collaborate
- b. there are agreed to guidelines to the process
- c. trial and adaptation
- d. reliance on each other
- e. integration
5. Co-creation - the highest level of collaboration where the sharing of resources is based on a high degree of personal, strategic and organizational trust and clarity.
The first key to moving people along the collaboration continuum begins with trust. I keep watching teams who do collaboration well and they appear to just trust each other. I know this seems simplistic but over time it is very noticeable.
But, let’s go deeper into the definition of trust. Charles Feltman in his book, The Thin Book of Trust describes trust and distrust as follows:
- Trust: “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”
- Distrust: “what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).”
The clarity around building trust starts first with knowing what is important and what people value. I have observed this on highly collaborative teams. They understand what is important to the organization and what is important to those who are involved.
This week, I challenge you to develop a one minute speech about why change is necessary, and a one minute speech about what the change is. These two actions will generate clarity and is a trust building action all it’s own.