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In completing the research for my dissertation last year, I uncovered a surprise: the most insightful work on collaboration was published in 1990, over 30 years ago.
Michael Schrage’s book carries a startling title: No More Teams!
The subtitle is a bit more reassuring: Mastering the dynamics of creative collaboration. Schrage, a research fellow with the Sloan School of Management at MIT, starts with refreshing clarity. He defines collaboration as a process in which two or more individuals create new value.
In other words, they innovate.
THE UNDISCOVERED POWER OF COLLABORATION
Schrage maintains that most organizations fail to understand the importance of collaboration in an economy fueled by knowledge. Although he was writing in 1990, I suspect the situation hasn’t improved much. He structures his argument with some bold pronouncements.
Our obsession with individual achievement obscures our understanding of collaboration.
Collaboration isn’t necessarily teamwork; and teamwork certainly isn’t collaboration. That distinction deeply matters.… Sadly, organizations that confuse collaboration and teamwork are destined to fail at both.
Collaboration describes the process of value creation that our traditional structures of communication and teamwork can’t achieve.
There is astonishingly little discussion of collaboration in the business world.
Collaboration is both undervalued and misunderstood.
The intellectual tradition of Western management has been to ignore or obscure the process of collaboration.
Schrage explains collaboration this way:
“Collaboration is the process of shared creation: two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own. Collaboration creates a shared meaning about a process, a product, or an event.…there is nothing routine about it. Something is there that wasn’t there before.…”
DESIGNING AND GUIDING COLLABORATIONS
In my strategy practice over 25 years, here is what I have learned:
Conversation is the core technology of our collaborations.
Successful collaborations emerge from conversations with an underlying structure.
Designing and guiding these conversations requires mastery of ten skills.
No one is equally good at all ten skills. Forming cognitively diverse teams accelerates collaboration.
Collaboration is a continuous process of experimentation and adjustment.
Collaborations take time and trust to form.
Focusing on small wins — doing the doable — accelerates the formation of trust.
We can also accelerate the process of collaboration by teaching the underlying skills. That’s #strategicdoing.
I amplify these points with a longer blog post on our Agile Strategy Lab website: https://bit.ly/2WZu9Hf