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How to Give Meaning to Collaboration


It seems an obvious task that takes place in many organisations.  

But most of the time, the collaboration is not worthwhile or effective. 

To improve services and outcomes, we must understand what collaboration really is and how what effective collaboration looks like. 

Collaboration at Work

What is the Definition of Collaboration?

The concept has appeared to be removed from day-to-day practice and remains a general idea without any consistent meaning in the workplace.

According to many sources, collaboration means working with one or more people to produce something as a team effort.

It is hard to implement collaboration in your teams and organisation if “why” is the reason and motivation to deliver and “what” is the objective and end-goal to reach.

What Should Successful Collaboration Include?

So, what does successful collaboration look like? According to our research on success stories and studies, both in the private and public sectors, several common denominators can be identified when we define successful collaboration...

  1. Common purpose

Collaboration between least expected organisations can become obvious once a common goal has been defined.

Clarifying the objective that everyone should work towards and how they intersect in some aspects will drive productive and meaningful collaboration and allow employees to thrive.

This will also help to decide which collaborative model is the most adapted to achieve your objectives in a manner that benefits all.

  1. Communication

This one seems obvious but could not be more crucial. Communicating about challenges faced, as much as successes, is essential when moving toward a common purpose.

Understanding all stakeholders involved will allow your relationship to function and achieve productive and sustainable collaboration. 

Read: How are we influenced by an organisation's culture? 

  1. Participation & Engagement

Collaboration means having all parties involved engaged. No one can collaborate on their own, and collaboration does not require the same type of participation and engagement as in teamwork.

When it comes to collaboration, the relationship is less hierarchical and more about mutual support. This means identifying the right people to drive the right behaviours.

What Could Stop Successful Collaboration?

Knowing your objective does not mean that everything will go according to plan. As such, it is essential to identify common denominators that engender unproductive collaboration to address them in time.

  1. Resistance to change

It is human: in the face of change, we tend to begrudge. Changing our way of doing things takes time, and the uncertainty that change will be for the better also leads us to be over-cautious.

For that reason, the risk and end goal need to be shared, so that collaborators can move forward. If people do not need to share the same methods, they should decide the general direction together.

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  1. (Lack of) Power-sharing

Multiple studies point out that an imbalance of power often leads to unfruitful collaboration.

This can be because when power is not shared equally, it can lead to resentment and internal conflict, but also decisions are taken more unilaterally and provoke more resistance.

If it can sometimes be useful to have a leader setting the example, collaboration should remain all about equal participation.

  1. One-size-fits all approach

We love a good magic recipe that will tell us exactly what to do and how to do it to deliver the best outcome. The reality differs in truth, and there are no “best approaches”, but rather “best practices”.

It is important to identify each stakeholder’s mandate and culture to create the perfect setting for collaboration. Some common themes can be identified in different success stories, but it should still be taken as guidance rather than ‘the only way’.

Understanding your organisation and team’s characteristics is as much important as understanding the ones of your potential partner. This will help design the best approach for both of you, based on a range of best practices rather than on a single model.

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