Collaboration

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Collaboration is the new buzzword.  It seems everywhere we turn, we read about collaboration–it’s critical to Sales 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and just about everything else that’s 2.0.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the collaboration soapbox as well, but I wish the focus wasn’t just on Shiny New Collaboration Toys. 

I’m attracted to any article that has collaboration in the title, but am often disappointed because it is another article on technology–whether a new telepresence approach (Yes Cisco, your advertising is working), a new software/social networking tool, or something else.  These are interesting and provide new ways to extend the way we collaborate, but seem to gloss over the essence of successful collaboration—or even the fact that collaboration isn’t necessarily the right answer for everything.

I remember when collaboration used to be called teamwork, but I guess that’s not as sexy a term.  Plus we all know about teamwork–it’s really hard.  Collaboration is hard too, but we spend more time talking about shiny new toys than about how to collaborate effectively or whether to collaborate at all.

So let me talk about teamwork.  For great teamwork, we have to align goals and objectives.  We have to have a shared vision about where we are going, how we know when we get there, and why we are going there in the first place.  If the team is aligned in it’s goals and objectives, then chaos results–we create a lot of activity, but it’s aimless.  We get frustrated with each other and tend to stop working as a team.

Teamwork limits our freedom.  We tend not to talk about this, but to be effective on a team, we often have restrictions on what we do and how we do it.  We must work together with others, not just do our own thing.  I was struck by a piece on collaboration by David Byrne (yes, of Talking Heads Fame).  He says that sometimes there is great joy in being limited — it helps to let others participate in making decisions, not to have the responsibility solely to ourselves.

He also raises the point that working together is to expose ourselves to ideas “outside and beyond what one would of come up with oneself…. It gets us outside our own self created boxes.”  Isn’t this one of the points of effective teamwork, that working together we can accomplish so much more than we could be working as individuals?  We can possibly get things done faster.  We can possibly come up with much better ideas, methods and approaches.  We can explore the concept that 2+2 is sometimes more than 4 (God forbid I use another buzzword–synergy).

Teamwork is tough, it’s a double edge sword–for every positive benefit, there can be a negative.  But if we can organize ourselves to overcome the negatives, the results can be tremendous.  As leaders, we build ”teams” in our organizations.  But creating effective teams is more than a buzzword.  Morten Hansen has written a great book on this, Collaboration.  It focuses on internal collaborations—teamwork, and when they are effective and when not.  It’s a must read for anyone involved in teamwork.

Teamwork outside of our organizational walls becomes “partnering.”  Partnering is all the rage, it seems to be a higher form of selling  (maybe it removes the stigma of the act of “selling.)  Like teamwork, partnering is very difficult.  It isn’t right for every customer or supplier, it isn’t right for every situation.  Effective partnering requires the same open-mindedness as teamwork.  Effective partnering limits our freedoms, but exposes us to opportunities that we might not otherwise be able to pursue.  No organization can partner with everyone–we can’t afford it, we don’t have the resources to support it, it creates organizational schizophrenia.

Partnering requires new skills, discipline, processses, and methods.  Partnering requires sharing—shared values, vision, risks, resources, and rewards

Teamwork, partnering, collaboration is about working together–differently–to achieve things we can’t do as individually.  The tools are just aids in helping us do this, they are not the ends.

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