Thursday, June 3, 2010
Don't Collaborate Unless You Have To!!!!!!
Occasionally, I will review the books I have on my shelves. Actually many are not on the shelves, but standing in piles on the floor and on various pieces of furniture. There is no real order among my books; my theory is that if books are scattered randomly the weird juxtapositions that occur will stimulate my creativity. It does happen, but the time spent searching for a specific book can be painfully long. Why don't I put the books into some kind of order? Well, it's hard to let go of a theory once you've adopted it. But I digress!
On a recent safari through my books, I came across one that deserves to be brought back into the light. It's called Managing to Collaborate: The theory and practice of collaborative advantage by Chris Huxham and Siv Vangen, Routledge, 2005.
In this age when everyone seems to be talking and hyper-ventilating about collaboration, it's always good to stay rational and ask the simple question, "Do we need to collaborate?" The authors mentioned above developed the theory of collaborative advantage which, to paraphrase,is the synergistic result of collaborative activity; the achievement of something beyond what could have been achieved by individuals working alone. To read some of the current commentary on collaboration, it seems to be collaborative advantage all the time! No one should underestimate the difficulties of achieving successful collaboration; it's tough, tough work. I'm not talking about mass collaboration here which is another animal.
What I like about about Huxham and Vangen is how they also hightlight the opposite of collaborative advantage - collaborative inertia (the dark side). In a paper in Organizational Dynamics, Vol 33, 2004, they say "collaborative inertia captures what happens very frequently in practice: the output from a collaborative arrangement is negligible, the rate of output is extremely slow, or stories of pain and hard grind are integral to successes achieved." They leave with the sage advice - DON'T WORK COLLABORATIVELY UNLESS YOU HAVE TO.
Good collaboration begins with understanding the value that collaboration can bring (or not) to solving a problem, innovating,executing a plan, or working through an issue. Good collaborators know when not to collaborate, as well as when to bring others on board.
Think about collaborating when the problem and the solution are unclear, or the problem is clear but the solution is not. When problems are 'wicked' - collaborate. Don't waste time forcing collaboration on relatively simple problems with simple solutions.