Three Pre-Conditions for Productive Collaboration

Being successful in using the strategy of collaboration requires three pre-conditions: practice, process, and potential. Without these, the likelihood of success with collaboration is severely diminished. 

Pre-Condition 1. Practice
Practice, the first pre-condition, 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. Essential practices of collaboration are:

  • Promoting interdependence as the way of working together.
  • Respecting the individual and their point of view.
  • Allowing productive friction and disagreements to push the team to explore new boundaries of possibilities.
  • Committing to working difficult issues through to completion.
  • Trusting that each person is working towards the best outcome for the group.
  • Informing team members about your current status and roadblocks.
  • Communicating to draw other people out, rather than shutting them down, especially during major disagreements.
  • Evidencing openness to the ideas of other people. 

Without these human practices, collaboration cannot flourish.

Pre-Condition 2. Process
Process, the second pre-condition, is about the processes or patterns through which people work together. There are many processes or patterns that can be used when people work together, and some processes or patterns are more collaborative than others. For example, making decisions 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—like the dictatorial “my way or the highway!” Other processes include communicating ideas, creating shared artifacts, and gaining feedback on ideas. For each of these processes 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.

Pre-Condition 3. Potential
Potential, the third pre-condition for collaboration, means that by working with other people and groups, something greater can happen than if the participants worked separately. The potential could be greater revenue for the firm, easier resolution of a problem in a key process, or a new opportunity to embrace. For example, an automotive firm produces multiple types of cars, and often the organizational structure is such that each type of car is aligned with a particular division. One division produces family cars. Another division produces sports cars. A third division produces off-road cars. But looking across the organization, there are common components shared by all cars, and by working together, significant reductions in development cost, market risk, and after-sales support can be achieved by creating common platform elements. Earlier this month in an article in BusinessWeek, Fiat’s CEO talked about how sharing platform elements between two vehicles allowed the firm to save 70% ($700 million) of the development cost of a new vehicle — a tremendous example of collaborative potential.

My question for you: as you consider the collaborative work happening in your organization, which of the above pre-conditions are going really well? Which one needs greater clarity?

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