A clear sign that organizations find a skill or ability valuable is when it begins to find its way into the competencies used to evaluate employee performance. Such is the case today with collaboration. Even the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama appears to be in support of the collaborative approach he espouses to international issues. However, collaboration isn’t a single skill or competency—it’s a purposeful way of working intended to gain access to and leverage valuable resources in pursuit of objectives. This is the real power of collaboration: Combining the knowledge, expertise, relationships, and other resources of people in ways that benefit and help achieve the objectives of all concerned.
Collaboration is generally considered to be synonymous with cooperation or teamwork. But neither cooperation nor teamwork adequately describes collaboration. Cooperating is only one step beyond acquiescing and cooperation can be voluntary or it can be forced. Working on teams is likely a required aspect of every professional’s job. True, collaboration does require working together with another party as teamwork implies. It also requires cooperation. But neither demands the resource leverage that is the advantage offered by collaborating. No one can be forced to give of their insights, make a recommendation, or use the passion of another to create new energy, direction and value, all of which are integral to the true nature of collaboration.
Likewise, having the tools of technology at one’s disposal doesn’t make collaboration occur. Yes, essential information may be more easily shared and transparency promoted through technical means. With so many people working from remote locations, tools that help people work together more efficiently are needed. Technology is an enabler of collaboration, and nothing more.
When practiced appropriately collaboration is a set of behaviors—a way of working that involves coordinating specific activities and communicating certain information to leverage resources in the purposeful pursuit of objectives. It requires an environment of trust and transparency. Collaboration opens up the possibility of accessing the resources, knowledge, and relationships other people and organizations have and using each party’s resources for mutual benefit. It also raises the specter of counting on someone who has no stake in your success. Thus, it is a sophisticated ability that depends on much agility in utilizing a range of skills through an iterative process of achieving desired outcomes. Collaboration is a means to an end, not an objective in and of itself.
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