Building a collaboration workplace

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —April 22, 2008
Filed in Collaboration

WP_collaborative.gifOur white paper on collaboration is now available. It was a pleasure working with Mark and Nancy White on this one. We’re hoping this document creates a new conversation within organisations where people responsible for fostering collaboration (line managers, business units leaders, CIOs, HR directors) not only realise that they must look beyond the technology implementation but consider ways to introduce and support collaborative practices. The need to effectively collaborate is only going increase because the world is becoming even more complex and we will need more people banding together to create solutions by bringing their different perspectives to bare. We also look at a new type of collaboration, which we’ve called network collaboration, where the rules of how we work together are being re-written.

Nancy, Mark and I would dearly love to hear your thoughts on what we’ve written and in particular what additional advice would you give to supplement our ideas?

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:


  1. Shawn, Nancy and Mark; a very nice piece of writing. It’s jargon free enough to use as a tool to align goals and actions across the spectrum of KM partners (HR, IT, IM, strategic planning, facilities etc.).
    I like the definition and contexts you’ve layed out for collaboration, the “cause” for collaboration, and the focus on culture – implying that how things are done are as important as what things are done.
    (I’m hoping you might agree to my translating the article, and posting English and French versions of the PDF on our intranet – with attribution of course!)
    I suggest supplementing your ideas by moving into an exploration of what collaboration is not – or if you’re inclusionary, the full spectrum of collaborative processes and practices.
    Why I’m saying this is that for many people collaboration is synonymous with coordination, cooperation, co/joint creation, debate, co-evolution, and a variety of other interatction processes. I do hate to get overly definitional, but I do believe that for people to work together they need to share some common language, and an understanding and agreement about the process to get things done. This type of agreement can provide a framework to evaluate individual and group performance, and mitigate situations where “buddy” trumpets his collaborativeness, while all he does is criticize others’ ideas and contributes none of his own.
    I’m reading Albrecht’s book The Power of Minds at work, and he maps out 10 learnable macro-skills related to what he calls ‘practical intelligence’:
    – mental flexibility, or “tolerance for ambiguity”
    – openness to new information
    – capacity for systematic thought
    – capacity for abstract through
    – skill at generating ideas
    – positive thinking
    – sense of humour
    – intellectual courage
    – resistance to enculturation
    – emotional resilience or “emotional intelligence”
    This reads to me like a list of collaborative skills, which could be a good idea supplement as well.
    Once again, very good white paper.. bravo!

  2. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments. Yes, no problems with a translation. I would love to have a copy for our site as well if that’s OK.
    What collaboration isn’t or when collaboration is unhelpful is a question we began to ponder then decided the paper was getting too long and set it aside for another time.
    Last night I polled a handful of people I know in Skype about what they thought was the difference between cooperation and collaboration. I’ll post the results soon but it did show a spectrum of perceptions. For me cooperation has the flavour of having to work with others while collaboration is when you want to work with others. I’ve read a bunch of the academic definitions but they left me cold and unworkable. Mostly about the spectrum of formality from coordination being the less formal and collaboration being the most. I disagree with this approach. I can think of plenty of examples of when cooperation is more formal that collaboration.

  3. Nancy White says:

    I’m agreeing that it is not always clear what we are talking about. This came up right away in conversation about this paper with a friend (and I think a comment on my site as well – don’t have it open at the moment.)
    I guess the first useful thing I’d think about is looking at the issues within a specific context, rather than generically. Maybe we need to think about another “thinking tool” that helps us be aware of what we want to do – cooperation, coordination, etc.

  4. Thank you Shawn.. I’ll certainly provide you the French translation.. and I like Nancy’s idea of a “thinking tool”..

  5. Permettre et stimuler la collaboration dans les organisations

    Anecdote vient de publier Building a collaborative workplace. Cet article constitue une lecture essentielle pour toute personne qui se frotte à des projets de travail collaboratif. Extrait de l’introduction:
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