I hear talk of working collaboratively. It’s one of those things that everyone agrees we should do, thinks it seems like it should be a good thing, and accepts that they don’t really know what it means. And then they go back to doing their work in their way.
Achieving ways of actually ‘working collaboratively’ is a huge challenge for organisations and individuals to even understand, let alone implement. But there are a few things that I think can help move in the right direction.
1. Understand the difference between collaboration and cooperation.
Collaborative means working together for the same goals. Cooperative means working together for different goals. Collaboration is only one way of working and it isn’t always the best way for every situation. Sometimes, working cooperatively is what is best, and that’s ok, not every situation requires collaborative working.
2. Think strategically
In my experience most people spend most of their time getting their work done without any thought about the bigger picture of what their team is trying to achieve, where their department is heading, or how their organisation is positioning itself in the market. I think strategic thinking is an essential component to working collaboratively. The more people thinking about that big picture and understanding what the future looks like, the more people there will be who aren’t just focused on their work, and so are more capable of working collaboratively.
3. Use a framework for collaborative working
In the same way as ‘being innovative’ is one of those things people in organisations say without any understanding of what it requires, ‘working collaboratively’ also requires a framework. One of the ideas I’m exploring about a framework for collaborative working is that it would involve alignment, trajectory, and momentum.
Alignment – a state of agreed cooperation
Working collaboratively starts with achieving agreement about what is the aim, who is going to do what, when they are going it, etc., etc. This is important stuff to get right but it’s often where attempts to work collaboratively stop.
Trajectory – the path followed over time
A trajectory also needs to be agreed to keep everyone on track as the work develops. There also needs to be a means for regularly checking that team members haven’t veered from the agreed path, and regular checks that the original trajectory is still the right one. If a course correction needs to be made then everyone needs to be brought along with it.
Momentum – force or speed of movement
Projects and pieces of work often start with great momentum and then as the other day to day work also needs to be done that momentum slows and things fall behind. Maintaining constant and consistent momentum for everyone involved is essential for collaborative working. If people aren’t moving along the path at the same pace the work will suffer as parts will be completed out of sync, people get left behind, and the general disarray that we see in non-collaborative working becomes the norm.
These are all quite new thoughts on improving collaborative working in organisations, but I hope that they are the beginnings of a process that I can use in my own work to question whether ‘collaborative’ is really the best approach, try to encourage more people to think strategically, and check for alignment, trajectory and momentum in any collaborative working that I do.