Collaboration in Service of Something

I have worked with two clients recently who listed “collaboration” in their strategy documents, in one instance as a goal and in the other as a core program/service. In both cases, I was curious about the why behind that choice. What value are they getting or offering from collaboration that would cause it to feature so prominently in their strategy? And how we can ensure its value is truly outweighing its costs? Even more than that, is collaboration an end in itself?

I’ve found a couple of recent articles from Harvard Business Review to be helpful in thinking this through. In this one on capturing value from collaboration,  I especially appreciated the observation that “collaboration is not a style” that privileges relationships over getting things done. Amen to that. (They recommend giving it a try!)

But often when we do try it, we find it taxing. This piece  talks about collaboration often being “driven by your desire to maintain a reputation as helpful” and explores ways to keep collaboration productive rather than a source of burnout.

Which points us back to the why of collaboration. If you are collaborating as a means to bolster your reputation, rather than as a means of getting things done more effectively, I have little doubt it will wear you out. And there is no guarantee that any and all forms of collaboration will be more efficient—it needs to be well-conceived, well-facilitated and well-monitored to achieve that aspiration. But while those conditions are possible, they still do not make collaboration an end in itself. It needs to be in service of something.

Know your why—maybe in this case it’s wiser decisions faster.

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