How to ACTUALLY collaborate

by Phil Culhane on January 22, 2013

“Collaboration is like teenage sex – everybody claims they are doing it but most people aren’t, and those that are, are doing it very badly.”
(with apologies to Chris Spray)

Collaboration is to government what eco-friendly is to consumerism – paste the word on top, and everyone feels smiley-comfy about buying it.

Everyone, everyTHING in consulting-land, all of a sudden, is collaborative. Software is collaborative. Hardware is collaborative. Services are collaborative as HELL. And consultants – well, they’ve been collaborative since you-know-who was a cowboy. Hadn’t you noticed?

Okay, so that might sound a bit jaded. Here at CT Labs, the big “C” stands for “collaborative”. We’ve been researching, publishing and DELIVERING collaborative, quietly and effectively, for a dozen years now. So before these Johnny (and Janey) come-latelies show up at your door selling their transformation open source collaboration services, let’s have a brief reminder course: what the hell IS collaboration?

Collaboration exists if and only if you walk away from the table with more people feeling empowered ownership of creating and delivering the outcomes. If you don’t share out authority and responsibility to deliver – with others co-creating the solution space and not you jamming it down their throats – you ain’t collaborative, baby. You’re just playing your old games, and calling it by a different name.

Here’s a continuum for you. These aren’t Webster’s Dictionary definitions, but they will help you see whether you are ACTUALLY doing it – or if you are just claiming you are.

Communication Consultation Collaboration
Information flows One-way. I talk, you listen. Ostensibly two-way – but with no requirement to integrate information flowing IN into activities Two-way. We both set aside our prejudices and work in service of the greater system.
Co-created Action Plans No. I’ll tell you what I’m doing – on a need to know basis. And I’ll tell you what YOU’RE doing – on a need to know basis. No. I may ask for your input, but I’m definitely not promising to incorporate it – and I get the final decision. Yes. I might bring a straw model to the conversation (so might you), but what we walk out with is something we’ve both improved and support.
Ownership of Outcomes All mine. All mine. Although I will deflect any criticism by telling people that I consulted with you. Fully shared. Ownership of successes and failures, and responsibility for providing resources becomes shared across a broad community.
Governance Small, close knit cadre of specialists who “know better”. Often a larger committee, but true governance falls to a select few. Collective community who share in the process and the outcomes.

 

We’ve said it before, Collaboration Doesn’t (Can’t) Come From a Store. You can’t buy it. You can ONLY live it. And it’s a different way of working. The processes, the frameworks, the structures – they are all very different. Slapping a new sticker on it doesn’t make it all of a sudden collaborative.

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