Setting Limits on Collaboration

Collaboration is the business buzzword* du jour. As with any other fad, it’s tempting for business leaders to say that everything they do is collaboration. Resist this temptation.

As aptly pointed out in a recent Economist Intelligence Unit report and discussed in this Wikinomics post, if we define collaboration so broadly as to cover virtually everything we do, it loses meaning. With that loss of meaning comes the inability to actually identify and measure the effects of collaboration within your organization. Above all, if you define collaboration to mean anything and everything, it becomes such an unwieldy tool that you can no longer use it with laser-like precision to actually improve processes and outcomes within your organization.
True collaboration is more than just doing something with someone else, more than just cooperating. Several have tried their hand at explaining the difference between collaboration and cooperation. Here are some samples of their conclusions:
– From CSCL: collaboration is a mutual engagement in coordinated effort, while cooperation is a division of labor where each person has responsibility for a different portion of the work.
– From the AASL Collaboration Brochure (1996): see a great chart showing the differences among cooperation, coordination and collaboration.
– From Dave Pollard’s blog How to Save the World: another great chart explaining cooperation, coordination and collaboration.
Business processes and outcomes are affected differently by the level of cooperation, coordination or collaboration applied to them. Savvy business leaders will use each of these tools separately, understanding what each can deliver and then applying them strategically. That’s how you avoid becoming a business “fashion victim” and become known as a effective leader. It’s your choice.
*For an amusing set of definitions of current business buzzwords, see Slacker Manager.
[Thanks to John Tropea (at Library Clips) for pointing out this Wikinomics post via his always interesting tags.]

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