What does collaboration mean to you?

RugbyScrumCollaboration has become a bit of a buzz word, often presented as a panacea for many organisational ills, or a magic ingredient for a would-be entrepreneur. It is frequently bandied around as a desirable goal and ‘a good thing’. But for whom? And what exactly are we talking about?

When some people say ‘collaboration’ what they really mean is reciprocity. “If I do x for you, will you do y for me?”. Whilst this is a useful bit of lubrication to the social and commercial mechanisms of life, it is essentially a transactional relationship. Even the idea of ‘paying it forward’ is still based on a favour being repaid at a future date. It is self-interested kindness. It’s not collaboration.

When others say ‘collaboration’ they really mean co-operation. Co-operation is the means by which we live and work together, sharing resources, showing consideration for each other so that we have an environment in which we can all thrive. Co-operation is essential in organisations but even whilst we work together for our mutual benefit, we are pursuing different goals and interests. It’s not collaboration.

Collaboration is when we work together to achieve a shared goal. This is not a common goal, not a happy intersection of our personal goals, but a deeply-held motivation to realise an identical goal. It is the achievement of that goal by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. It is through this alignment of commitment and goals that people come to work closely together and the magic is released.

All of these things are ‘a good thing’ but only one is the real deal, only one gives you a real shift in energy and achievement. When you are seeking true collaboration, make sure you are focusing on the right one.