I don’t think anyone thinks they consciously and actively block collaboration, but we often hear cries for more collaboration, so much so that we wonder why we don’t collaborate more than we do. In this post I will explore the reasons for collaboration and some of the blockers that stifle collaboration.
So what do we mean by collaboration.
Collaboration is defined in the dictionary as: traitorous cooperation with an enemy.
That may not mean what we think when we say collaboration. Of course there is another definition which is: the action of working with someone to produce something.
The key part of that definition is to produce something.
So, meetings are not collaboration. They may be part of the process of working together to eventually produce something, but the meeting in itself is not collaboration. Collaboration happens when teams produce something.
Why should we collaborate?
One of the key reasons behind this is about having a wider set of skills and capabilities to drawn upon to produce that something.
Another reason is that it can avoid duplication of effort, collaborating avoids the need for teams to do everything to produce something, but also duplicating effort that may have already taken place, or is being undertaken simultaneously.
Finally with more resource devoted, stuff can be done at pace.
So what are the actual blockers to collaboration? Usually it isn’t one thing, it’s a combination of things.
The working environment can often hinder collaboration, if you are a geographically dispersed team you may not meet people on a regular informal basis. Unless you build in those informal connections, it can mean that the formality of meeting (online) can get in the way of collaboration. Teams that don’t know each other find collaboration challenging.
Another blocker can be a lack of trust, so failing to accept the work of others and duplicating their effort in your own way. Collaboration requires both trust and acceptance of the work of others. This is also about delivering what you promise.
When teams have different or competing objectives, then this can result in teams moving at different speeds or in different directions. When objectives come from strategic priorities then this is less likely to happen, where teams set their own objectives and align them to the strategy then you can have conflicting or clashing objectives.
Where goals and objectives are not clear, this can cause confusion, different rates of pace and failure to achieve. Collaboration requires clarity of goals and objectives across all teams. This is then echoed across the tasks and activities, who does what, what do they need to do, when they need to have it done by and how long will it take.
Even with clarity of goals and objectives, it is vital that there is a process that checks progress against the plan. You can use concepts such as agile for this, but whichever concept you utilise, the key is regular checks of where you are, what blockers are stopping progress and what are the next steps.
If the team doesn’t know what is happening, a lack of transparency, this can block collaboration. Using tools that allow everyone to see progress can result in better collaboration.
Without effective communication collaboration can slow and come to a halt. This comes back my earlier point about meetings. Meetings are not collaboration, but can be important in facilitating collaboration, only though if they are well organised and run effectively.
Collaboration does require teams to plan and think about their ways of working. Compromises have to be made to ensure effective collaboration. You have to trust, and trust is a two way street.