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Collaboration – What Does It Really Mean?

(from the Cisco Blog)

Carlos Dominguez:
Definition – There is a lot of confusion on the very definition of collaboration. If you ask 20 people, you might get 20 answers.
Value of collaboration – For the most part everyone agrees collaboration is a good thing to do but many haven't defined what value it brings to their company, or why to do it at all.
How to do it? –  "Effective collaboration" requires a major focus on culture, the deployment and use of technology,  the adoption of process / governance for positive results. Few companies focus on all three.
Bad is worse than none –  Morten Hansen points out in his book Collaboration, that bad collaboration is a waste time and resources and produces no results.  Deciding not to collaborate is a better option than bad collaboration.
Used interchangeably with "innovation" –  There is clearly some confusion with the relationship between collaboration and innovation.  By being innovative you aren't necessarily being collaborative and visa-versa.  There are interdependencies between the two but they are not the same thing.
     Michael Schrage in his book No More Teams! defines it this way:   "Collaboration describes a process of value creation that our traditional structures of communication and teamwork can't achieve."  
     Mark Granovetter in his 1973 paper, The Strength of Weak Ties, highlights the importance of diversity in the areas of brainstorming, problem solving and ideation.  The more diverse the group, the better they are at these tasks.
     Carlos' definition:  Collaboration is highly diversified teams working together inside and outside a company with the purpose to create value by improving innovation, customer relationships and efficiency while leveraging technology for effective interactions in the virtual and physical space.

Other Definitions from the Cisco Blog:
     Collaboration is the activity of a group of people who share a common charter (or mission, or objective).  The group's charter could be "share knowledge" which is a form of collaboration.     
     Collaboration is where people that each have unique strengths in a given subject work together efficiency and accomplish something none of them could by themselves.
     Jose Ballarin's definition: "collaboration is being an active member of a group that works together to achieve a common goal".   
     Being an active member means you not only participate in conversations, meetings and interactions passively (i.e. only listening and learning) but you add your piece of contribution to the group. You listen, process, create and share materials that add up to the ones shared by others.
     Because collaboration is a group activity, you need to feel part of that team. You need to be yourself and at the same time a piece of a bigger organization. That's the meaning of being a "member of a group".
     Your work can't be disconnected from what the group is doing. The team needs to work as a single unity, which is at the same time a requirement to achieve the goal as well as a consequence of that goal being considered as something valuable by each and every member of the group.