September 19, 2012


Guest Post by Charles Lee

Collaboration is both a mystery and a miracle. It comes in all shapes, textures, and sizes. Collaboration is as unpredictable as the future and ever changing like the wind. It lures and dismisses us without warning.

Collaboration is truly a complex endeavor. It’s complex because it involves complex beings – yes, people like you and me! Collaboration is neither static nor guaranteed. There are a million reasons why one might not collaborate with another. For some, it may their lack of time and resources. For others, their hesitancy is rooted in the fear of uncertainty, risk, or lack of knowledge. These and many more like them are all legitimate reasons and warrant consideration before entering a collaborative environment.

Here are some of the common ways people view the nature of collaboration:

Collaboration as Option – Some view collaboration as a nice option for enhancing one’s own endeavor. In this view, collaboration is something one adds to his/her work when conveniently available but isn’t considered necessary for one’s goal.

Collaboration as Connecting – Some view collaboration as simply as “connecting” with others. It doesn’t entail too much work outside of getting together. In this view, collaboration is mostly an intellectually satisfying experience with minimal commitment.

Collaboration as Want – Many view collaboration as something they want. They know it’s extremely beneficial to moving forward in their endeavors, but find themselves questioning how it actually works. Based on my interaction with leaders, I think most are in this category of thought. They really do want to collaborate but feel a rising sense of pessimism because of previous experiences and lack the energy to seriously try again.

Collaboration as Necessity – This is a minority group of people who view collaboration as an absolute necessity in their pursuits. Despite some of the disappointments of past experiences, people who hold this perspective choose to open themselves up to new opportunities, even at the risk of being let down again. These individuals choose to learn from their past “failures” to become better collaborators and work intentionally towards paradigms, systems and arrangements that produce great partnerships.

Understanding how to perceive collaboration is a good starting point in deciding whether or not to participate. In my experience, there appears to be some foundational principles that guide healthy instances of collaboration. These principles are in no way perfect, but they do help to form productive interaction and “co-labor” (a key to co/laboration). For example, a practical way to minimize unnecessary complexity is to state upfront as to what kind of collaboration you think you are entering. Getting things down on paper, even if it’s a simple one-sheet agreement, can make a world of difference. Minimally, you and the person(s) you are collaborating with will have a point of reference for conversation and potential refinement of arrangement.

I know for many driven by a “relational” posture may view this as mechanical and artificial. Nevertheless, the potential awkwardness of creating a mutually agreed upon agreement is far better to experience than the level of frustration that often arises when this is not considered.

Another principle to embrace is for those involved to focus on actionable steps. Think big and act small. Creating milestones that are clear and linked to accountability will be key. Ideas are only as good as one’s ability to implement. If your meetings are not filled with actionable items, you may want to reconsider having meetings in the first place. Incremental implementation is what ultimately helps us reach our goals. Keep moving things forward together.

There’s no doubt that collaboration is both powerful and necessary in our world. How to go about co-laboring is something we all need to help each other on. Collaboration truly involves mutual “labor” and commitment to work. Developing one’s skill-set in collaboration requires intentional pursuit and life-long commitment. Viewing collaboration as necessity will open up a world of opportunities and perspectives that would not have been possible without it.

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