Making Collaboration Real

Ask a random person on the street, and they'll support collaboration. Of course it's a good idea when people get together to work on something, solve a problem, help each other out. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that you, reading this post, agree that collaboration is a good thing.

So why doesn't it happen more? Why are we seemingly in a sea of individuals, or departments, or organizations, who are each trying to get things done and only grudgingly coming to meetings that involve other people? One reason is how bad we are at running meetings, but their are larger dynamics at play here. Our culture likes competition and it likes individuals. Dan Oestreich wrote a great post about competition, and here is the money quote:

The world isn't going to be saved simply by the most powerful individuals or their best ideas, but by the power and ideas that we have found together.

I think we value the brilliance of the individual too much, and we discount the power of getting people together to come up with solutions together. We view it as a waste of time, or too hard. We get frustrated when the conversation goes in circles. Why do I have to be at this meeting? I could be back at my desk getting "real work" done. As I said, bad meetings don't help anyone. But sometimes I think it's our own lack of skill in working together to solve problems that gets in the way. Think about whether you need to work on your ability to come into a group discussion WITHOUT the answer and actually work the conversation to the point where new solutions are jointly developed. Try it out more. Learn what it takes to do it well. 

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  1. 26.10.2010 at 10:42 pm

    You hit the nail on the head. True collaboration takes time, persistence — and practice. We are conditioned to compete and persuade, but the other way, the way of collaboration and trust, is about building bridges, finding links, allowing the discord and then looking for the synergy. Thanks for highlighting such an important topic. Best to you, Dan

  2. 27.10.2010 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks Jamie. Indeed, funny that we posted two pretty different takes on collaboration at almost the exact same time. I responded to the comment you left on my post (, and I wanted to make a similar comment here.
    I think our end desire is the same: to see collaborative processes used to their best potential and not wasted. You point out how powerful the results can be, and I admit to taking a more pessimistic view in lamenting how collaboration can be a negative when it’s not done right.
    I like your call to action – learn what it takes to do it well – and you rightly point out that that takes a lot of conscious effort. Thanks!