Defining Collaboration – 1. The 3P's of Collaboration

What does the word “collaboration” mean? In my workshops and seminars, I start with this definition:

People working with other people towards a common outcome.

That’s a pretty broad definition, and while it signals the game we’re playing, it doesn’t detail the moves required.

One way of thinking about collaboration, then, is to look at the three P’s: Potential, Process, and Practice.

In order for collaboration to work – and I’m not even talking about technology at the moment – all three need to be in place.

Potential, the first P, means that by working with other people and groups, something greater can happen than if the participants worked separately. If group A can earn $1 million by working by itself, and group B can earn $2 million working by itself, the net value to the organization is $3 million. If they work together and earn $2 million in total, that’s negative potential – not a good thing. However, if they work together and earn $5 million, the collaboration potential is an extra $2 million. In summary, there needs to be an awareness of the greater value that can be achieved by working together than not.

Process, the second P, is about the processes or patterns through which people work together. There are many processes or patterns that can be used when people are working together, and some processes or patterns are more collaborative than others. For example, making decisions (about making many things) is part of working on a project or working together more generally. There are collaborative ways of making the decision – brainstorming, idea ranking, and voting – and non-collaborative ways of making the decision – dictatorial “you will do it my way or the highway!” Other processes are communicating ideas, creating shared artifacts, gaining feedback on ideas, and so on, and for each there are collaborative patterns and non-collaborative patterns. Shared understanding of, agreement on, and commitment to using particular processes and patterns are the second key element of collaboration.

Practice, the third P, is the human practices of collaboration. In order for people to work with other people, there needs to be a fundamental set of collaborative practices at play. Practices such as respect for the individual and their viewpoint, awareness of the strengths that each person brings to the joint activity, commitment to work through issues to completion, and trust that each person is working towards the best outcome for the whole team … are core and fundamental to effective collaboration. There are others too – this is just the start of the list.

I said all three need to be in place. If not, here’s what happens:
– Potential, Process, NO Practice – the people irritate each other and can’t get anything done.
– Potential, NO Process, Practice – the people don’t have a common way of working together.
– NO Potential, Process, Practice – the people are ready and able, but there’s no reason for working with others. Doing so would waste organizational resources.

Question: When you look at the collaboration taking place in your organization, which of these three aspects are:
– (1) present and done well;
– (2) present but done poorly; or
– (3) absent all together?

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