Monday, March 15, 2010

Some Collaboration is Wrong…Even When It Is for a Good Reason

There is not simply one kind of collaboration. It is a gross over simplification to speak about collaboration in homogenous terms because it takes on diverse implications every time a collaborative initiative is put into effect.

The goal of collaboration is to get better results and while not everyone practices the same degree of discipline in their choices about when, where, why and with whom to collaborate – there is general agreement that there is a “right time and a wrong time and a right way and a wrong way” to collaborate.

A very common breakdown in effective collaboration occurs in organizations of every size when the wrong kind of collaboration is used, even if it is applied for a good reason.

One very good outcome of successful collaboration is the social capital that is built through exercising effective communication, mutually exploring interests and ultimately developing stronger relationships (that are quite useful when difficult circumstances arise). This is important and it should be recognized as a legitimate by-product of successful collaboration. However, this good will and social capital is not the end goal of collaboration and when it is over utilized, it inadvertently distracts us from the right kind of collaboration.

The right kind of collaboration is often quite challenging. By definition, if an individual could get a better result themselves, they would pursue that path because it is more efficient. True collaboration is plural and often challenging because of communication incompatibility, differences of opinion, and uncertainty of outcome. We tend to do less of this kind of collaboration, despite the fact that it holds the most potential for achieving better results.

When it is easy and it feels good to connect, communicate and problem solve with another person we tend to do more of that kind of collaboration. The paradox which undermines our overall effectiveness is that we could benefit more from challenging collaboration, yet we do less of it because it is time consuming and susceptible to an uncertain outcome.

The lesson here is to confront this paradox when it emerges. Choose opportunities for collaboration when they represent the right reasons. When it feels easy and good to collaborate, question the motive and make sure the end goal of a better result can be achieved.

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