5 Key Steps to Achieving Collaboration

In last week’s post Why Co-Collaboration is the Future of Facilities Management Outsourcing, I wrote about co-collaboration as being the way forward in terms of delivering real value in outsourcing. Having written the post it occurred to me that I had taken for granted that we all have a universal understanding of the word ‘collaboration’. Given that this is spoken about so much and yet rarely achieved I thought I should clarify what I meant.

If you look up the word ‘collaborate’ you will see that the first word listed in the online thesaurus is ‘collude‘. If you then look up the collude ‘in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary you get the definition “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose >acting in collusion with the enemy”. This would certainly accord with the understanding of my parent’s generation, the word collaborator was used to refer to someone who willingly assisted the invading Nazi’s during World War 2 and was akin to the word traitor.

Collusion in a more modern and business context is a word associated with corruption, predominantly in the form of price fixing. In South Africa, we have seen high profile examples of collusion in the bread industry and in the construction industry with the construction of the 2010 Soccer World Cup stadia. So not a great provenance for the word but this association is unfortunate and something of a sidebar. What I would like to focus on is collaboration in the positive sense of the word where it has come to mean the coming together of different people with different skills in an effort to solve complex problems that could not be achieved by each acting alone.

Collaboration is a multiplier of effort, it can achieve results greater than the sum of its parts if it is understood and enacted in good faith. To further complicate matters, collaboration occurs along a continuum which has five specific stages. But the good news is that all of these stages are probably everyday occurrences for most of us in our working lives and so the achievement of collaboration is not beyond our reach, although to achieve the final step takes a sometimes counterintuitive approach.

1. Communicating

Much of the current day ills of our society are blamed on a lack of communication, and there is no doubt that many of today’s communications are inadequately structured, poorly focused and delivered through inappropriate channels so as to confine the communication process to one-way traffic. For communication to work, it requires us to take the effort to construct and deliver our message so that it is understood. At the other end we need to take advice from Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  and in particular Habit 5 “Seek first to understand and then be understood”.We all need to improve our listening skills to seek understanding and not to work out our response. This is easily said but at the very least involves an understanding of your intended audience, the preferred channel as well as the language to be used. This is in its most basic form involves a degree of collaboration, between the parties.

2. Networking

Networking in today’s society gives rise to images of an ever expanding spiders web of digital connections and is associated with enhanced the communications afforded by the social networks such as the likes of Facebook, Twitter etc. The information exchange through such networks is relatively friction-less as there is little effort on both parties to establish the connection. Whilst networks facilitate greater degrees of two-way communication there is little need to give up or share any personal collateral nor is there often a common purpose or objective in mind.

3. Co-ordinating

Co-ordinating is a step up the continuum and differs from networking as it involves the exchange of information in a synchronised fashion towards a common goal or objective. This higher level of collaboration involves a degree of trust between the parties towards a shared goal or objective. However coordination does not necessarily involve the sharing of personal collateral and can be sometimes viewed as an administrative task conducted by an outside party coordinating others towards a joint purpose or shared goal, thus the coordinator need not have any ‘skin in the game’.

4. Co-operating

Co-operating is an association designed for the mutual benefit of all involved and for the purposes of achieving a common goal. To be successful there needs to be personal involvement, intent and trust by all parties involved. whilst a leader may exist as part of the endeavour, all parties need to have ‘skin in the game’ if there is to be co-operation. Whilst co-operation means that participants will contribute and participate in the initiative towards the stated objective they may not necessarily actively engage to find solutions for the greater good of the initiative or the other members. Whilst each participant may be co-operating towards the ultimate team objective their motives may not be wholly altruistic, indeed they may be self-serving and selfish, although not ultimately destructive.

5. Collaborating

At the highest end of the collaboration continuum, there needs to exist a high level of trust and a large degree of personal commitment or collateral to the initiative at hand. However, collaboration differs to all the other states in that it requires each partner to demonstrate and act upon their partners best interests. This means that they understand that their partner’s success is as important as their own and they cannot achieve success without each other. They are therefore actively engaged in achieving their partner’s goals as these are inherent to the goals of the initiative. In Africa, this is perfectly described by the word

This selflessness is not easily achieved in the cut-throat world of commerce, it is perhaps counter-intuitive. In business, we are taught to look after No 1. However, we have a perfect example of this in South Africa. Collaboration is wholly encompassed by the word Ubuntu, which loosely translated means “I am because of who you are”. The spirit of Ubuntu was core to the servant leadership style of Nelson Mandela during the transition from the apartheid Government during the early 90s.

As I expanded upon in my previous post, collaboration or co-collaboration is an absolute necessity in the business of outsourcing. As a service provider, we constantly hear our prospective clients talk about the partnership as a vague notion of working together. But partnership is impossible without collaboration and collaboration is essential if we are to efficiently leverage the resources required to achieve mutual goals. As service providers and leaders, it is important that in pursuit of our customer’s objectives we learn to collaborate in order to serve our partners, our customers and our tribe.

Question: What does collaboration mean to you and how have you been able to achive it? Please leave your comments below



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