How do you define collaboration?

It sounds like a silly question—one you might be asked during an employee training session.

It could be a question in a job interview or something your teenager Google searches at the last minute before debate class.

How do you define collaboration?

As corporate communicators, we all know what collaboration is. We also know—after years of painstaking experience—that collaboration is often more effective in theory than in practice.

At my company, there are certain people who refuse to work together, and there are others whose attempts at collaboration lead to meeting and email overload.

Put simply, collaboration is working with someone or with others to create something or achieve some other common goal. Collaboration creates a shared understanding about a process, a product or a goal.

We should also discuss what collaboration is not:

  • Collaboration is not coordination. Coordination is the process of ensuring team members are following the agreed-to plan of action. Collaboration is, in part, determining the plan of action.
  • Collaboration is not cooperation . If people are working together but have no shared goals, they are cooperating. For example, when I tell my kids, “Please cooperate and help me fold this laundry,” I’m really just telling them what to do. If I say, “I need to finish the laundry. How would you like to help me?” we’re collaborating.
  • Collaboration is not delegation. I’m sure you’ve all worked with leaders who have trouble letting go of projects. Often, their only step toward collaboration is to pawn off work on someone else. “I’ve asked Paul to assist me, so he and I are collaborating.” It’s not collaboration if Paul is doing the work of the group and has no say in how the work is completed.

This is my favorite:

  • Collaboration is not copying someone on an email . How many times has this happened to you? Without conferring with any stakeholders, one department makes a decision that affects everyone in the company. They announce the decision and cause an uproar. When asked why they didn’t communicate about the change or even tell anyone they were considering the change, the answer often is, “You were copied on an email months ago.” Collaboration involves active and direct communication with stakeholders, rather than passive “oh, by the way” messaging.

Of course, collaboration involves all these elements: coordination, cooperation, delegation and communication, but none by itself constitutes collaboration.

What do you think PR Daily readers? How do these terms apply in your workplace?

This post was first published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.

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