Collaboration, as a concept, can be used by those seeking control of a culture for their own purposes. If collaboration becomes a form of groupthink or censorship, watch out. I’ve seen many different professional cultures version of collaboration—and have left some feeling as if I were in a governmental public input meeting where very little actual input is allowed by design.
Here is the actual definition of the word, according to Merriam-Webster:
1: to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
- An international team of scientists collaborated on the study.
2: to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force
- suspected of collaborating with the enemy
3: to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected
- The two schools collaborate on library services.
Key to successful collaboration, given the definitions, is an in-depth exchange, a flow, of ideas, between different types of professionals.
To explore the most potential, you must provide an atmosphere of mutual interest, as well as an atmosphere of respect, trust, and acceptance. If these ingredients are not present, you may end up with a debate, but not really a collaboration.
A collaboration can be best defined in the professional world as to where you gather with professionals with different skill sets and perspectives to solve a problem. While exploring a wide variety of solutions it is important to be respectful, but never rude.
In other words, you should be able to offer a constructive critique of an idea of a way to enhance it, but one should never take such suggestions as a criticism of themselves. Likewise, it should be acceptable to note possible barriers and problems with an idea, but never acceptable to criticize one of the participants in the session.
We like to call this mode of working together Extreme Collaboration. Conflicts of ideas will arise. Visions may clash. Yet, as long as everyone knows they are working on the same team toward the same goal, it will be generative and fruitful.
Conflict is praiseworthy, a sign that you are moving ideas forward rather than hosting a too-polite-to-be-helpful session. Don’t want to take my word for it? Let’s call on someone with more visionary gravitas.
The visionary poet, William Blake, said it best: “without contraries, there is no progression.”
Without a variety of viewpoints and expressions on the issue at hand, nothing moves forward; think of these conversations and exchanges as constructive friction, the motion, and grit from which the oyster forms the pearl.
Such exchanges can become impassioned when done right spirit. When this happens a refining dialectic guides the collaboration to new, unforeseen and previously unknown possibilities. This extreme approach creates new value while valuing the strengths of each team member.
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Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.