Collaboration: Hip, Hop, or Hype?


Note: Dwight is currently out on leave so we are running some “best of” blog posts from his writing for the Vistage Executive Street blog that you may not have seen before. Enjoy!

Collaboration is seemingly the current trendy word among consultants, authors, HR executives, and leaders who are attempting to “stay hip.” Is it really a valuable way of interacting? Will it last? And what’s the big deal?  Why not just cooperate, the way individuals in most functional groups have been doing for a long time?  Is there any real difference anyway?

Rather than restate definitions here, refer to Mike Cook’s blog, The Heart of Engagement, which recently (February 13th) dove into the distinction between collaboration and cooperation – “Collaborate; that Looks Like it Might Hurt? Can’t I Just Cooperate?”  and David Wedaman’s blog, Theatrical Smoke, entitled “Liaisons, Collaboration, Cooperation, and Soup,” both of which do an excellent job with the subject.

According to Wedaman, “…collaboration comes at a cost: being highly unstable, politically unwise, and anxiety-provoking; we should not jump into it without knowing the costs.” To elaborate, he throws out phrases like: “politically vulnerable…freaks people out…occasionally hard to explain…[and] anxiety provoking.” If that doesn’t give you pause, what will?

In my post, “Discover Your Own Resourcefulness,” I addressed making big commitments and the immediate threats that arise in our minds. One of the antidotes is to discover or round-up missing members and surrender to a team. The other is to identify and execute missing strategies. After reading Wedaman, I’m guessing most of us would opt for the strategies piece and forget the whole team thing…

It turns out that collaboration, (and learning), requires a lot of surrender and that makes it “dangerous.” The risks, in this case, are largely to our own identities, political positions, ability to control outcomes, long held beliefs, and on and on… When we talk about surrender, we are not saying “give up” or “give in.” We are talking about being willing to jump in and be in an open, curious state. To do this requires that the rewards far outweigh the perceived costs, or the current fear level makes going forward look like a much better choice. Such situations occur when we take on really big goals or when the rate of change around us makes our world seem like standing at the edge of the ocean as the waves quickly erode the sand from under our feet.

To me, this is where the “hop” comes in that will have collaboration not only persist but become the more normal working paradigm. Webster’s informal definition of “hop” is  the ability to “pass quickly from one place to another.” If we consider place as a state of mind, especially collective mind, it begins to shed some light on the issue.

In David Houle’s book, “The Shift Age,” he asserts that humanity will experience all of the change in the next 10 to 100 years that it did in the last 1,000 years. We live in an environment of change and many individuals are already experiencing “innovative exhaustion.”

The ability to connect with others and “hop” will facilitate collective learning, allow us to draw on our shared capacities, and move quickly from paradigm to paradigm as we fulfill big goals, create new ones, and keep moving into strange new and exciting worlds.