A Framework For Collaboration

Collaboration is one of those words that is used way too often and is conflated to cover everything from transactional to shared relationships. In agile, the term collaboration is meant more specifically to mean the scenarios where teams create shared relationships so that they can achieve a common goal that individually would beyond their capabilities. In order not to dilute the power at the core of collaboration it is important to clearly understand behaviors that it are easy to conflate with collaboration.  A high-level filter to determine whether the behavior is collaborative includes the following criteria:  

Common goal – people performing Activities that don’t support a common goal are more akin to working near each other. 

Interaction to create an output – something needs to be created for collaboration to occur.  The output of collaboration can be as ethereal as an idea or an argument or as tangible as computer code or building. 

Shared ownership of output – shared ownership creates a platform for sharing of ideas, self-organization, and swarming. 

Bi-directional communication – collaboration requires an interchange of ideas, knowledge, and feelings to craft something that is greater than the whole. 

Two Examples:

Murali Chematuri and I collaborated on a book. We had a common goal, we had shared ownership of our output, had lots of bi-directional communication (sometimes loud) and produced an output (the book).  This was collaboration in all of its glory. 

I spent several months during my high school years working in factories (a tire plant and candy kitchen).  I am a bit fuzzy on whether there was ever a shared goal, there was little or no interaction between steps in the process (except for small talk), there was no shared ownership of the output even though in both cases something was created, and all communication between workers and the process owners was one way. My factory experiences are not examples of collaboration. In some cases, they might stray towards the realm of anti-collaboration. I should note that the candy kitchen, due to the small staff,  came closer to a collaborative experience than the large multinational tire plant. 

A framework helps to evaluate whether any specific behavior or activity is collaborative. Based on the framework, I asked people for examples of behavior they regularly hear described as collaborative that they are unsure of whether they fit the definition. 

Next:  Three Categories Of Behaviors That Aren’t Collaborative