Culture & Competency

Defining Collaboration – 2. Four Types of Work

I’ve said that collaboration is about “people working with other people towards a common outcome.” While people work together all the time, not all work is “collaboration” per se.

Think about it this way. There are three factors to consider when looking at work:
1. The definition of the outcome for the work.
2. The means of doing the work, or the work practice that is followed by the individuals involved in doing the work.
3. The degree of work that happens with other people directly, as opposed to being carried out by an individual.

With a simple two-rating scale per factor, we can combine the three options into four meaningful patterns.

Here’s what you get –

In Pattern 1, Do What You’re Told Work, the workers have no input into defining the outcome, no input into the work practice, and they work alone. With respect to working alone, any work output they create is combined with work from other people, but they themselves do not do it. Eg., a production assembly line, where people are treated as mere cogs in the process. Each person has a specified job to complete, as defined by the process designer. People work alone on their own task. A supervisor ensures compliance with the process definition, and can dish out punishments for non-compliance or rewards for super-productivity.

In Pattern 2, Cooperation, people work together directly, rather than having indirect links between work. Perhaps people work together because greater strength or dexterity is required to complete the task at hand. Or more expansive thinking is required. The basic idea is that the people involved have to work together to get the task completed — and they know they are working together. Eg., the same production assembly line, except this time the work is cell-based, and multiple people work together on the same component at the same time. They have to coordinate what they don.

In Pattern 3, Delegated Collaboration, we keeping the change from cooperation, that people work together, and add that the people involved have input into the work practice. The outcome is defined for them — imposed if you will — but the people involved have to decide how to complete the task. Perhaps the people are more skilled in the work practice than the manager. Perhaps it can’t be reduced to specific process steps, and requires judgment, skill, and insight. Or perhaps an enlightened manager knows that better morale will be created if he or she gets out of the way and lets the group decide how best to work together. Eg., the same production line, except there is no separate process designer. The assembly line workers both plan how to do the work and carry out the plans together.

In the final pattern, Creative Collaboration, even the outcome is defined to a degree by the people doing the work. It’s not imposed, because the understanding of the outcome changes and morphs as the problem is explored. It’s an iterative process of problem exploration, outcome definition, and back to problem definition again. Eg., the same production line, except the definition of the products produced require interaction with the end customer, to understand their needs and goals, with prototypes developed and created by the production team to explore solution fit.

Question: What’s happening to the work composition in your organization? Is it going up the ladder, to where greater collaboration is required?

Update (November 2012)
By email (since comments are closed), Peter wrote: “I like the structure but differ about the labels. I would use the Four Cs of Collaboration, Cooperation, Coordination, Compliance from top down on the left.”

Categories: Culture & Competency

2 replies »

  1. When collaborating, I find that defining the strategy with and for your team regarding your resources, goals and needs, is more than mandatory. I think those patterns you described are quite accurate to what’s actually going on with collaboration, but maybe we need to redefine some issues, roles, strategies, methodologies, etc.
    Very interesting, I’m quite glad I found your blog