What is “collaboration” and why does everyone need it so badly all of a sudden?
The ideal of collaboration is inarguable. We see a team huddled around a big table, pencils and papers everywhere, the best ideas written on the whiteboard. They guzzle coffee and work into the wee hours of the night until they hit their eureka moment.
It’s a meeting of the minds, an energized, organic and dynamic way to solve problems and have everyone pitch in for the next big idea. The ideal collaboration world leaves no stone unturned or perspective overlooked, and the best solution wins and works for everyone.
The word itself simply means working together, from the Latin col- (together) and laborare (working). The modern definition, according to Merriam-Webster’s is “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.”
Okay, we can live with that definition.
But if we ask Google to define the term, we find, “working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit.”
We’re getting away from it a bit. Do we only need to put our heads together when we can achieve a business benefit? The simple answer is no.
We have technology that makes collaboration “happen”
We understand. The office of cubicle dystopia where no one works on anything together stinks. People need to work together to achieve the best possible solutions. Indeed, with the notable exception of Donald Trump’s sui generis genius, there hasn’t been a single idea in the history of humankind that hasn’t benefitted from someone else’s input. Even when the input isn’t directly incorporated, it influences the idea for the better by accounting for a broader perspective.
“It’s clear that the business world needs collaboration, but are messaging apps to intranets offering “collaboration” as one of their features the way to go about it?
While at first the collaboration gimmick might have seemed sincere, it’s reached a point of critical mass. There’s an old canard with more than a kernel of truth that something is officially passé when Microsoft starts using it in their marketing. And now see the new Office 2016 couch its pitch to upgrade in language that asserts that it lets “us work better together” through apps that are “collaborative.”
First, let’s look at why Microsoft makes this claim. New collaborative features include:
- Outlook Groups in Outlook for teams to have shared project calendars and a communal OneDrive for storage.
- Office Planner app, which acts as project hub and tracks progress of projects
- The new Delve app that finds documents that people have sent buried in your inbox and also shows you most frequently used documents/templates by you and your team.
Sure, it looks as if these features would be beneficial for teams with individuals in disparate locations. They would definitely come in handy for folks in different time zones. The end result is a product that has taken into account many perspectives.
But creating a document that is then commented upon and edited by a group of people is not collaboration. It’s a modern miracle of technology that we can produce a project that people work on from opposite sides of the globe. It’s still not collaboration. It’s serial editing.
In most cases, we’re not working together; we’re working separately on the same thing. These tools are not a substitute for the mindset necessary to work out an idea with a group of people. You can’t use a communication channel to force something as ethereal as collaboration happen. You have to foster collaboration, and allow it to grow and evolve naturally.
Collaboration is in the culture, not in the technology.
There is a connection born out of true collaboration that we’re missing by relegating it to a tech term. It takes from the power of the word. If your company’s culture is not conducive to collaboration, then it doesn’t matter what tools you’re using or programs you’re investing in. It won’t happen. In the same way the Internet itself can’t automatically foster greater knowledge or understanding between groups, technology that can foster collaboration doesn’t create it.
People need an environment of inclusiveness and respect to collaborate. The concept of collaboration tools isn’t a new thing. The white board, papers, pencils and big table—those are collaboration tools too. But just because they exist in an office doesn’t mean they’ll be used for collaboration.
- Conversely, collaboration will happen in the right environment, no matter what. Email works just fine as a collaboration tool with the right people and teams.
- Does your company’s culture and attitude toward collaboration reflect your investment in collaboration tools?
- Are you constantly sharing and exchanging ideas or do you only sit down together when it’s down to the wire?
- Before investing in new apps and software, take a look at your culture. It might be time for an upgrade.
Want to develop a culture of collaboration within your organization? Brand Culture can help by facilitating the development of your organization's Shared Purpose.