Collaboration is not joke, but it doesn’t take too much to turn it into one. If it does become a joke, it is unavoidably because we, the people, never got it in the first place. For every collaboration that went well I can find ones that could have fallen (or indeed did fall) short of its potential. As a strategist I analyse both the successful and failed attempts and work on bettering the odds in favour of great collaboration. This is particularly vital when it comes to multiple agency involvement.
So here are three factors to consider to reduce the risk of your collaborations looking more like…well, pears.
- Humans are frightened of collaboration, as much as they may be drawn to it. The warm and fuzzy connotations of the word collaboration today are a very attractive and magnetic force. People read the word collaboration and think ‘togetherness and belonging’. Collaboration indicates a fun way of working where everyone’s ideas get to be heard and everyone counts. The reality is that collaboration is a form of disruption. When we consider how most of our value production system has been developed over the past century (with the advent of more sophisticated mass production), it becomes clear that collaboration is very different and, to a significant majority, not a very familiar practice. Collaborating from time to time is not the same as collaborating by default. So, the first factor is to remain very realistic about collaboration and approach it with professional vigour.
- Collaboration can be faked. Anyone who has tried to achieve a major outcome by focusing on collaboration should recognise that not-so-nice feeling of apprehension when a collaboration does not look real. Somehow, the words and the action do not meld well. If collaborators are not serious, the collaboration is inevitably fake; and I am not really sure what benefit a fake effort offers. But I do know that in any professional collaboration, all participants must be serious; meaning they must remain ‘earnest in action and thought’.
- With any collaboration competition is critical. The principal measure is who can do more: for the partner. The major distinction between collaboration and co-operation is that the former is significantly more entrepreneurial in nature. In fact, no work makes sense without co-operation. Businesses co-operate in a marketplace, employees do the same within any business entity. A combination of regulation and market behaviour come into play and produce a co-operative environment. However, collaboration is about going one step further and seeking better ways of finding advantage, improving outcomes and making competition an integral part of collaboration. Businesses that collaborate are in fact more likely to divert their energy into innovation and fine tune their competitive edge as opposed to simply attempting to defend their position through less competitive behaviour.
The above three points can be further extended depending on specific conditions within which the collaboration strategy is applied. Collaboration in a government setting for instance is bound to be different from collaboration in a corporate setting. The nuanced knowledge of the intricate web of business drivers matters. Regardless of industry and sector, some of the above mentioned factors can still make a big difference to serious collaborating partners.