The economic crisis of the past few years has caused organizations great and small to actively chase innovation.  Just what exactly innovation is and how it can be measured is are hotly debated topics.  Even though everyone wants to be an innovator, we will ignore the definition of innovation for the time being and focus on one of the primary tools being leverage in the pursuit of innovation, collaboration.  We will focus on collaboration because done correctly; collaboration is the duct tape of the business world.

Collaboration is typically defined as two or more people working together to solve a common problem or in pursuit of a common goal.  Two components of the definition get to the crux of what makes collaboration work.  The first is the phrase “two or more people” because you can’t collaborate by yourself.  Without different points of view much of the power of the technique is lost.  Second is the phrase, “common problem” or “common goal”.  The common goal acts as the focusing mechanism for the overall process.  Combining these two concepts means that collaboration works through social interactions focused on a common mission.  Done correctly collaborative efforts deliver synergy, addresses complexity and fosters involvement.

The makeup of the team is a major component of the success of any collaboration.  Rogers and Hammerstein combined scores and lyrics into fantastic songs, creating something greater than the simple sum of the parts.  Great sports teams attain championships when they combine complementary skills which allow them to tackle problems that they are not capable of addressing individually.  In brainstorming we are taught to build on the ideas of others; to dovetail ideas.  Combining and building on the ideas and thoughts of the team is synergy.

Businesses don’t create collaborative teams to tackle the simple problems.  When was the last time you formed a collaborative team to decide when you were going for lunch?  Never?  But there probably was a group created (hopefully collaborative) to decide where the entire office would go for the last holiday lunch.  Collaboration is a reflection of the maxim that two heads are better than one (on different people).  Many times multiple points of view are required to solve problems that can’t be easily described or solved individually.  Collaborative groups allow problems to be viewed from multiple points of view which allows the team to describe problems and solutions in a more robust manner which is one technique for dealing with complexity.

Collaboration can used to build buy in for the solutions that are generated.  Naomi Karten in her book, Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change, said “that even a minimal sense of control can go a long way towards easing the stress that people feel.”  Collaboration is one means of providing a means for participation yielding a sense of control.  Each voice on the team is a representative of a constituency that is being voiced as the solution is crafted.  As part of implementing the solution it must be expected that the individual representatives support and sell the solution to their constituencies.

Part 2 –Attributes of Collaborative Teams