In my Making Collaboration Work monthly newsletter for June, I wrote about three possible ways of seeing whether collaboration was taking place.
Being Collaborative – How Can We Tell?
How do we know if a group or team is being collaborative (or even an organization for that matter)? Are there objective attributes we could look for that would define collaborativeness? I don’t yet have a final answer to this question, but it’s consuming a lot of my attention at the moment.
One potential answer is to look at the technology used by the team. According to this argument, we could conclude that a team was being “collaborative” if they used collaboration software – Traction TeamPage, Yammer, Atlassian Confluence, Central Desktop, or any one of the other alternatives. Although it’s an indicator of collaboration, the use of collaboration software is an indicator I reject. The tools play a very small role in whether a team is collaborative or not – it’s how the team uses the tools that matters.
A second potential answer is the type of language used in the interactions between team members. If team members used language to seek clarification from others, to request input, to offer constructive input in response to requests, perhaps that would signal greater collaborativeness in the team. The opposite would be the use of language to tell other people that their ideas were dumb, to tell them that you had the right answer (and they didn’t know what they were talking about), and to offer stinging criticism in response to their requests for help. Would the predominance of language of this kind signal that the team was anti-collaborative, and dysfunctional?
A third potential answer is the presence of well-formed collaborative interaction routines. If I ask for help, and you and others respond with input, and I then express thanks for your contributions and incorporate them into my work and thinking, that’s a well-formed interaction – and one that looks collaborative. On the other hand, if I ignore what you say in response to my request (because I was just doing it to go through the motions and comply with our team agreement), would that signal a lack of collaborativeness? As with the language patterns, you would need to be able to look at the predominant style of the team, rather than isolated examples.
Of the three that I’ve outlined, what do you look for in the teams you support? And is there a fourth objective attribute?
Categories: Culture & Competency