Having worked on multitudes of teams, focusing on the topic of collaboration for my Master’s degree, and actively doing research on collaborative practices between educational institutions has garnered a ton of information and opened my eyes to what I have deemed the cult of collaboration.

We’ve all had those moments when we were asked to become a part of a team that is working on a project. I wonder if anyone else has had the thought about collaboration that I often have, namely, is collaboration worth it?

I wrote in an earlier blog that some might consider the cost of collaboration too high and thus they stay away from collaborating as much as possible. Yet it seems there are more and more articles, books, and talks being given regarding collaboration. Indeed one trend in leadership development this year focuses on teamwork and collaboration.

In this post, I want to try and answer two questions that have emerged from my recent foray into the world of collaboration. Those questions are;

  1. Is collaboration worth the effort?
  2. Is the methodology of collaboration flawed?

Is collaboration worth the effort?

I am not necessarily advocating an outright dumping of the collaborative process, I am however trying to reconcile the seemingly cultish behaviour of the topic with the results of collaboration.

First, let me define what I mean by cult. A cult is (outside of all the religious connotations) a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing. There can be very little argument that the topic and practice of collaboration has been on the forefront of business, vocational, and educational horizons for some time. Yet often what we see as effective collaboration is merely a mirage that proves elusive and promises an oasis of success and recognition.

In theory, collaboration provides opportunities to generate great ideas and solutions. We dare not throw the baby out with the bathwater and underestimate the power of a collective. However far too many times participants within collaborative processes are asking questions about intellectual property or the exposure to giving up market shares, or just plain being forced to conform to methodologies that or either antiquated or are too confining.

The leader’s role within collaborative projects also has to change. If a leader primarily operates in a transactional or command-control framework, success will always remain elusive. There really is no formal control only influence. Therefore the leader must change skill sets and develop skills in mediation, negotiation, resistance to change, silo breaking, and conflict resolution. Understanding that one’s ego is always the enemy and being committed to a larger more common goal is paramount not only for success but also for survival!

Is collaboration worth the effort?

The answer may be more elusive and more relative to the situation and the people. Does it take work? Obviously, the answer is yes but the deeper, and darker, question may be; what’s in it for me?

Is the environment inclusive and adaptive towards different ideas – no matter how farfetched?

Is there freedom to think and act independently within the project or does there need to be sign-offs for everything?

Given that most collaborative projects can consume 70-80% of my working time, only to have the process bottleneck because someone needs to “have their voice heard” before the team can move forward – what assurances are we giving our people that we simply will not waste their time. Just like any mentoring program, forced collaborative efforts rarely turn out well and always carry a half-life that extends well beyond the memory of the actual project.

Is the methodology of collaboration flawed?

Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there are many ways to derail a collaborative team environment. Allow me to name but a few;

  • Don’t take into account people’s different personalities and approaches to problem-solving.
  • Don’t allow people space to authentically speak.
  • Be sure to make someone look stupid and ill-prepared every meeting you conduct.
  • Allow others to bully the group and take over the agenda to further suit their own personal needs and agendas.
  • Always make someone outside the group an object lesson on what not to do.

HBR’s article on designing collaborative networks may prove very insightful and offer helpful advice to anyone looking at tackling the beast called collaboration. A positive outcome for any collaborative process must start with the end in mind.

What needs to be accomplished?

Further, collaboration’s sister is strategy. Leaders need to know and grow in the area of developing and executing strategy.

What stepping stones are needed in order to accomplish the project’s outcome?

Is the methodology of collaboration flawed?

It seems that when a collaborative network is focused on people + results, the answer is no. If the collaborative effort is focused only on results then the methodologies breakdown and the whole thing quickly degrades into a ‘better we hadn’t started at all’ philosophy.

It would seem that collaborative efforts don’t necessarily need the brightest and best people to garner success. However, what it does need are people who carry expertise as well as an open mind towards different points of view with an attitude of leaving egos at the door.

One thing is for sure, collaborative efforts thrive on relationship capital. If there is little to no regard for the role of healthy relationships then it might prove better to stay clear away from starting that next collaborative project.

As always I am interested in your thoughts and comments. If you would like to share those please make use of the comment section below.

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Have a great weekend and remember…vis facare – we get stronger by doing.