Daily Archives: September 12, 2011

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate … NOT!

Over on the HBR Blogs, Andrew Campbell recently wrote a post on how Collaboration is Misunderstood and Overused that was awesome. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s thought-provoking and contrarian and almost ranting in its tone … and I love it!

As you may have guessed by the increase in the number of rants the doctor has written lately, he’s getting fed up of the bland, thoughtless drivel that is becoming common on many “leading” news and blog sites these days. In his view, if you can’t find something new, exciting, and innovative to write about, then, unless you can find something exciting and undiscovered in the same-old-sh*t that you’ve been writing about for years, don’t write anything at all. Stuff gets old and stale very fast on the internet. And those who are leaders, and not laggards, get tired of stale bread very quickly. But I digress.

In his post, Mr. Campbell, who is a director of the Ashridge Strategic Management Centre, notes that collaboration, which often fails because it’s a risky, time-consuming endeavour with hard-to-resolve competing objectives, is often confused with teamwork and that’s the big issue.

In his mind, teamwork is performed by a team that is created when people need to work closely together to achieve a joint objective. And in this team, someone is given the authority to resolve disputes, ensure coordinated action, and remove disruptive or incompetent team members. As a result, even teams at odds can succeed with a good leader.

In contrast, collaboration occurs when either two more individuals (departments, or other entities) identify shared goals and decide to work together to achieve those goals, or, more likely, when a senior executive creates an initiative that spans intra or inter organizational boundaries. But, unlike a team, there is no leader and no guaranteed way to ensure progress. And if the collaboration was mandated, the collaborators can’t walk away when they disagree. As a result, it’s easy for collaboration to come to an unresolvable standstill.

These are good points. If a dispute cannot be (forcefully) resolved (if necessary) and if the participants can just walk away at any time, there is no guarantee of a result — and no way to show collaboration ever took place. As a result, as the author points out, success depends on whether:

  • the participants are committed to work together
  • the participants have high respect for each other and each other’s competencies
  • the participants have the skills to creatively bargain with each other

and, most importantly, at least in the doctor‘s view,

  • the participants can swallow their pride and their ego and admit when someone else has a better way (which can be very hard for Type A’s and PhDs).

Based on this, the author suggest that you should only set up a collaborative relationship when you cannot use a team or a customer-supplier relationship and when some form of interaction is absolutely necessary. And even then, it shouldn’t be a permanent solution.

I’m not sure this is the right view. And I’m probably the most cynical of all the supply chain bloggers (because I know almost all marketers lie, that many, for lack of a better word, “analysts” in the space don’t really know squat about the fundamentals of technology, and that the current state of technology in an average enterprise organization is pretty dismal compared to what it could be)! Yes it often fails, but it’s usually the people and not the process. If you want to work together, you’ll work together. If you don’t, you won’t. Team, customer-supplier, or collaboration. Doesn’t matter. Collaboration can work just as well, even though, in reality, the odds of success might be less. Or maybe I’m just an optimistic cynic.