At this year’s #CIPD14 conference I highlighted that I heard the word collaboration being dropped throughout a range of different sessions. The word isn’t new – it comes from the Latin collaboratio meaning “work together” – yet the use of the term has increased sharply, particularly since the early 1980’s.
While their meanings are almost identical, collaboration has a much more cosy feel than it’s usurped forbear teamwork. The latter hints at retention of individual roles. Tasks are divided up into manageable chunks, handed out and later fitted back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Not ideal when there’s no guarantee a coherent picture will be formed.
Conversely, collaboration is portrayed more of a collective consciousness. It is producing a great painting whereby each artist adds their own unique brushstroke. The idea appeals to the human psyche as a much more beautiful and fluid way of achieving. Yet, our brains actually struggle to work in that way.
Collaboration in theory means a potent mix of raw talent. Individual skills seamlessly blending to provide a much more powerful outcome. It’s both balancing different strengths and forming a unified whole. However, the former means that the latter is difficult to acheve, and vice versa. Human personality has a tendency to continually push people towards homogonisation, to the exclusion of the unusual. Hence the collaboration clique.
Taking a bunch of talented people and leaving them to it is an imaginary ideal more likely to lead to a Lord of the Flies style disaster. Facilitation should go hand in hand with collaboration, and not just at the start, throughout the project. As always, the newest, most popular “tool” isn’t a quick fix that can be grafted on to a gaping wound.
I believe collaboration is such an important concept, and with the growth in tech and social media this is only likely to increase, But unfortunately it’s not as easy as it may seem, or as we would like it to be.