Developing a Collaboration Capability Requires more than Wishful Thinking

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —February 6, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

The ability to collaborate is becoming an essential capability for innovative organisations (actually, for any organisation). Imagine getting any big project done without collaborating. Here’s what scientist and Australian of the Year, Fiona Wood, said on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope TV show about collaboration:

“I haven’t got the intellectual capacity or the time or energy to actually manufacture all these pieces of jigsaw, but I know where I can find them. I go and I see amazing science being done, I think, ‘Whoa, can we work together? Because that is one of the pieces of the jigsaw, I can see that it will fit and I can see I can help you with maybe a little bit of yours but you can help me with mine.’”

The trouble is, collaboration is a skill and set of practices we are rarely taught. It’s something we learn on the job in a fairly hit-and-miss fashion. Some people are naturals but many of us are clueless. It’s no wonder then that developing a collaboration capability is often the number one priority in the work we do to help organisations develop their knowledge strategies.

Establishing a collaboration capability requires someone to foster its development. People would think you are crazy if you suggested a company establish a sales capability without sales people or a human resources capability without a HR team. Yet, we have seen organisations wishing for a collaboration capability without identifying or resourcing people responsible for developing it. Wishful thinking is not enough.

The role of the collaboration co-ordinator (evangelist, manager, specialist; the title doesn’t really matter) would include:

  • ferreting out good collaboration practices and tools and keeping up-to-date with the field
  • finding situations in the organisation where better collaboration would make a difference to the quality of products and services, the speed of delivering these products and services to clients, and the ability to use a diversity of ideas and approaches to innovate
  • helping people learn and adopt collaboration practices and tools
  • collecting stories of how collaboration really works for the times you need to justify the role
  • connecting people and ideas so new collaborations might flourish

Those organisations that move beyond wishful thinking and commit resources to establishing a collaboration coordination role can often face the frustrating dilemma of wanting the job done but are unable to free someone to do it. We’ve seen this situation a number of times now and have offered an Anecdoter (one of our consultants) to do the job while a suitable permanent staff member is found. Whether the role is filled in house or my a services organisation is immaterial. The important point is that the organisation is signalling to everyone that collaboration is important and that they are serious about enhancing their collaboration capability.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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