Collaboration: 2 + 2 = 5

Collaboration: 2 + 2 = 5

During Web 1.0, people were largely limited to viewing content on static sites.  Today, with the Internet’s transformation to Web 2.0, people regularly collaborate and share information on dynamic sites with much of the content being created and consumed by users.  Enterprise 2.0 is similar in that it focuses on collaboration within the enterprise.  Technology offerings from Jive Software, Salesforce.com (Chatter) and Yammer are dynamic and open versus closed and static like email.  They enable employees to share ideas and work on projects in real-time.  In sum, collaboration tools are helping companies take their performance to higher levels.

What is collaboration?  Collaboration occurs when two or more people work together on an issue or project and the collective outcome is greater than its individual parts.  That is, the collective efforts of many are more effective, innovative and productive than the individual efforts of one.  In contrast, direction is communication from one person to another with an action associated with it; e.g., you individually need to get X done.  Direction is based on command-and-control and is the opposite of collaboration.  While many companies are moving toward collaboration, they continue to use periodic command-and-control for critical decisions, implementations, etc. (e.g., Cisco).

According to Morton T. Hansen, author of the book, Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results, there is a right way and a wrong way to collaborate.  Engaging in collaboration involves a cost-benefit analysis.  The benefits of collaboration must be greater than is its costs.  If they are, it is good collaboration.  If they are not, it is bad collaboration.  Good collaboration means 2 + 2 = 5.  Bad collaboration means 2 + 2 = 3.  Hansen states that bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.  Remember, the goal of collaboration is not to collaborate for collaboration sake.  The goal of collaboration is to achieve greater results.

How do you ensure that you are working toward good collaboration?  Begin with the end in mind.  You should only collaborate with people when collaboration is the best way to improve performance (benefits exceed costs).  Many times it can be better to work independently versus with people, especially on things of trivial value.  Moreover, do not over-collaborate; i.e., engage is multiple iterations or involve too many people.  Always be disciplined about the cost-benefit of collaboration.  None of us is as smart as all of us. If you have to be the smartest person in the room, your potential will be limited.  We do not compete with each other, we complete each other.

All contents copyright © 2011, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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