More on defining collaboration

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Is it mere coincidence that all three of the comments on the Defining Collaboration post were from guys named Jim? I think not!

Two of the comments wanted to stress that collaboration can (and often does) take place within the context of formal organizational structures and activities. That’s definitely a good point. I didn’t mean to imply in the definition that it didn’t. 
What I was trying to distinguish is the difference between the activity of collaboration, which I think of as being free flowing, creative, and non-deterministic, from a traditional command-and-control kind of activity, where someone in authority directs and coordinates the work of others and where repeatable processes are executed in well understood ways. 
The reason I want to make that distinction is that I think it’s at least likely that the two different kinds of work require, or at least can best benefit from, different kinds of tools. So while tools like traditional project management software, forms-processing, and workflow engines are good for the hierarchical structured kind of work, tools like wikis and group task lists are perhaps more useful for collaborative activities. 
I’ll have to think about how to make that clearer in the definition. Thanks, Jims!

2 thoughts on “More on defining collaboration”

  1. *goes back to read other Jims*

    Well, yes, Loter would have more insight into the politics of this taskforce. We’re dealing with a similar thing here in my corporate corner of the world. Spending millions on a “Global Intranet” built on top of Office SharePoint Server 2007 because a collection of our execs decided that everyone needs to “collaborate”. It’s been a very top-down process and, as such, has had limited success at best when measured in terms of adoption and daily use.

    Of course, when it comes from the top-down, the edict to “COLLABORATE!” is usually another way of the top saying, “I/WE WANT ONE PLACE TO SEE WHAT YOU ALL ARE DOING!”

    Obviously, from the above, I tend to prefer with your characterization of collaboration (“free flowing, creative, and non-deterministic”). And that kind of activity, while it can be encouraged and enabled by top-down management, is ultimately only successful when desired and embraced by the actual participants.

    Yes, you’re right, free collaboration can occur in several contexts – including within a formal project management framework. And that may be the most important distinction to make to the political beasts – that collaboration is not the inevitable result of any management structure or methodology.

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  2. Thanks for the clarification, Oren. Sorry if I went off a bit, there. If I get you right, your point was not about the presence/absence of organizational structures but rather about how one does the work within them.

    I appreciate Jim (G.’s) point, too, about how a collaborative approach can’t be imposed.

    I like Clay Shirkey’s taxonomy in “Here Comes Everybody” in which he talks about moving from Sharing to Conversation to Cooperation to Collective Action. Each stage requires individuals to give up a little more personal control and invest more in the relationship or common goal. But the group itself has to feel compelled to step it up a notch. I’m still reading it, but it’s an interesting conceptual framework.

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