For the online learning world


The Truth About Collaboration

A lot of companies and education institutions talk the talk of collaboration, but often what happens is far from the real work of working together.  There are always lots of reasons why this happens:

  • Running out of time
  • Not allocating enough resource
  • Lack of agreement on the purpose of the work
  • Assumption of what everyone thinks is important
  • Assumption that everyone knows how to collaborate

I suspect those are reasonable assumptions, but I have a different theory.  My theory is that most leaders do not know how to collaborate and/or are uninterested in learning about it.  It is a fear-based position about sharing decision-making power.  It is about culture. And changing culture from hierarchical to collaborative is hard work!

There are Good Reasons To Collaborate

There are documented reasons for collaboration.  In one article by Dr. Benjamin Jones of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, the major success in collaboration is bringing a variety of backgrounds and skills to one place to solve a problem.  

The example is having a team made up of different parts of the organization — some with direct expertise and some without — but the “spice” is the different lenses people bring along with different specializations.  In a world where there is too much knowledge for any single person to have, bringing people with diverse pools of experience and information can be magical.

A fantastic article in Forbes several important research studies about collaboration are cited.  One found that employees are 5 times as likely to be high-performing in a collaborative setting than when not.  It also points out that it takes effort for collaboration to happen – and in this case it means incentivizing.  Yes, they found that extra money had a “profound effect” on collaboration. So why doesn’t everyone use it?

Why Don’t Leaders Use Collaboration?

So why is a leader reluctant to use collaboration?  The Fearless Culture Blog had an answer that resonated with me:

“True collaboration cannot be imposed — it must be designed and facilitated.”

Collaboration is not about getting the top minds together — it is a culture of respecting individual differences, having the patience to hear them, and taking time to reach consensus. In addition to time barriers, many leaders fear losing power if they empower a group of employees to make decisions.  This is even though we know the result will be better!  If you are asked to collaborate, is there any sort of facilitation?  Is there a process or design?  If not, be wary. You may be set up to fail.  If you are in a leadership position, take the time to train and plan before the group meets, and find an excellent facilitator to guide the way.

Photo Credit: the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Session 222 on Flicker, used with a creative commons license.

Don Brown
Latest posts by Don Brown (see all)

Don Brown

Education Technologist, Researcher, and Trainer.

One thought on “The Truth About Collaboration

  • Great post !
    I saw some good research showing that bad leaders think if they collaborate it means they are weak … wow, those people never quite made it to adulthood eh?


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