Understand Collaboration

How is collaboration different from other ways of working together?

The following text is an excerpt from the book THE COLLABORATION HANDBOOK Creating, Enjoying and Sustaining the Journey by Karen Ray and Michael Winer

In popular use, a collaboration occurs anytime people work together to achieve a goal. For our purposes, collaboration will be more narrowly defined. One element of that definition is the intensity of effort required by real collaboration. A brief story illustrates this:

Someone calls and says, “We can get a much stronger impact if we collaborate on this project.”
“Great, let’s meet,” is the response.
After three meetings, our colleague is talking about the mission for the collaboration and what we all can achieve together in the next year .
Some of us were thinking, “Year? All we ever planned to give this was half-a-dozen meetings at the most.” Trouble!

Our colleague had a different concept of collaboration and the intensity of work it required. The following table shows a continuum of increasing intensity for building relationships and doing work:

Regardless of the intensity, many groups call themselves collaborations. They also use such terms as alliance, coalition, partnership, and so on. As a result, confusion exists about what the word collaboration means. Moreover, some groups enter into collaboration when they need only cooperate with each other or coordinate activities. Other groups do need collaboration but do not understand the intensity of effort it will demand.

As defined in this book, collaboration is the most intense way of working together while still retaining the separate identities of the organizations involved. The beauty of collaboration is the acknowledgment that each organization has a separate and special function, a power that it brings to the joint effort. At the same time, each separate organization provides valuable services or products often critical to the health and well-being of their community.

Given the greater intensity, the investment in collaboration must be worth the effort. This is because collaboration changes the way we work. We must move from:

Above all, collaboration has to pay attention to language. We concentrate on what “we” want over and above what individual partners want. Listening to each other and thinking creatively become all-important.

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