Collaboration – simple surely?

Collaboration is a word I hear more and more. And yet, like innovation, I’m not sure always what people are talking about. To my mind there is a spectrum of relationships in business – for me it looks something like the picture below but that will no doubt iterate as my musing continues, and it’s certainly only one possiblity. The range covers from the purely personal to the legally defined corporate level. And collaboration for me sits somewhere on this spectrum.

Spectrum of relationship

So what do I have in mind when I think collaboration? It’s probably something like the Apple Developers Network, or open innovation type activities such as Foldit at the University of Washington. Such activities contain an element of making the contributor feel valued and appreciated (so that’s more akin to the personal end of the spectrum) but there is a structure (however loose) to the activity that creates discipline in the response.

Why do I care? Well I increasingly hear that organisations are seeking to collaborate, (or to partner) and I wonder if they have any idea of what their culture needs to look like to make genuine collaboration possible. . . .  For a start it’s about understanding both sides of the deal – what motivates people to contribute as well as what the organisation wants from it. That motivation may not be immediately recogniseable or understandable to the organisation at all.

And it maybe possible to add a level of discipline or structure to the collaboration but it is a far cry from specific legal control or a guaranteed outcome, both of which are implicit assumptions in the operations of many large established organisations.

For me, collaboration will be increasingly important in the gig economy – those prepared for it (on either end of the ‘deal’) will gain both agility and speed of response – those who only think they understand it may discover otherwise. But that assumes that collaboration as a term can be defined and articulated rather than simply a buzz word of the moment.