This article wouldn’t have gotten written if not for the collaborative effort, or the collaboration of, my team members. Someone is good at research, someone at writing, and another at editing and proofreading.
We’ve all collaborated with colleagues; there’s nothing new about that. We gather around in meeting rooms for discussions; some physically present and some via video; tasks get allotted and we all then get down do doing our part to meet a common goal. We work with people outside our teams and help get work done, either for ourselves or someone else.
But it’s not just individuals who collaborate; companies collaborate with each other to further their business or market reach. Why, even nations do, collaborating on technology or medical research or defence strategies.
Is collaboration the same as teamwork? In a manner of speaking, yes. While teamwork is when people come together to fulfil short-term goals, collaboration is more strategic and long-term, and might not always have an immediate, direct reward. Let’s read a bit more, together, shall we?
Meaning: What’s in a word?
Today everyone wants to ‘collaborate’. Unfortunately, the word has been so overused and overhyped that it’s almost lost its meaning. Everyone is trying to push for ‘new ways of working’ that it is leaving companies and people alike confused. And this ironically comes in at a time when business experts are constantly stressing on the importance of nurturing collaborative organizations.
So what exactly is collaboration? By definition, it is: Two or more people working together towards shared goals. But it’s not always been like that.
A mildly tainted history: the good and the bad
The word traces its origins to the mid-19th century to the Latin term collaborare, which means to ‘work together’. Around the 1830s it was limited in use to united labour in literature or scientific studies.
The meaning took a bit of a turn for the worse when it came to mean ‘traitorous cooperation with an occupying enemy’, with the earliest recorded references being made to the Vichy Government of France in 1940. It also had a bit of a tainted history since 1922, when ‘collaborationist’ was used disapprovingly as socialist lingo.
Luckily today, the meaning and usage of the words has gone back to being positive and it is much sought after by all professionals.
The business benefits of collaboration
Collaboration is the fuel that drives a business. As stated above, collaboration is a working system where individuals work together, could be towards a common goal and to realise a business benefit. Loosely, it can be split into:
Synchronous: everyone part of the team interacts in real time – through online meetings, instant messaging, via Skype, etc.
Asynchronous: here the interaction can be time-shifted, such as when uploading documents or annotations to shared work spaces, etc. A brilliant example of asynchronous collaboration is making contributions to a wiki page.
Collaboration brings unexpected benefits to an organisation, including:
Cultural innovation: Collaboration encourages innovation. It works from within and makes a difference to the business and the industry at large.
Original thinking: There are a bunch of online collaboration tools that organisations can use. Collaborating using those can help form connections between departments and teams that couldn’t otherwise have been possible.
Actual ROI: An innovative and collaborative environment is naturally more productive, and it will generate stronger ROI across the business.
Collaboration is about the community as a whole. While teamwork means bringing together varied resources to achieve a specific goal, collaboration is about supporting people beyond teams and departments, when they need it. There may or may not be a direct reward from doing so, other than the warm feeling of having helped a fellow professional.
Shared workspaces offer the perfect crucible to foster and develop collaboration. Disparate people, either through chance or deliberation, come together and create something entirely new. Organisations can use these common working spaces to bring their team members from across geographies for a ‘brainstorming session’, which is nothing but collaboration in a different suit.
Genuine collaboration involves:
Awareness: becoming part of a working body with a common purpose
Motivation: working collectively to solve a problem
Self-synchronization: existing as individuals and doing things when they need to happen
Participation: wholehearted contribution and expecting the same from others
Mediation: negotiating and finding a middle path
Reciprocity: sharing, disclosing and expecting the same from others
Reflection: being open to considering alternatives
Engagement: being proactive and taking active ownership
From start-ups to entrepreneurs to large companies, everyone collaborates. While on one hand the idea of collaboration is largely dependent on openness and knowledge sharing, it also requires focus and accountability. Governance, in the form of a leader, should be put in place simply to ensure delegation of responsibility and to ensure genuine collaborative effort.