'More than 97 percent of senior leaders believed collaboration is essential to success. However, only 30 percent of respondents and 47 percent of senior leaders believed leaders in their organization are actually skilled in cooperation. Results indicate leaders must learn to work across boundaries to collaborate effectively in the coming years. ' (Center for Creative Leadership, 2007)
Collaboration is a process of participation through which people, groups and organizations work together to achieve desired results. Common factors and characteristics have been identified by research as influencing the collaborative process, including the skills of leadership, communication, sustainability, unity, participation and a history of successful achievements (Hogue, et al., 1995; Keith et.al, 1993) . Borden (1997) has identified four factors: internal communication, external communication, membership, and goal setting.
Borden & Perkins (1999) identified and defined the following factors in the development of a simple self evaluation tool. This tool can be used by groups to stimulate discussion after self rating the collaborative effort for each key area. It can also provide an overview of the key factors necessary for success in a collaborative project.
• Communication – clear and open with an established process.
• Sustainability – there is a plan for sustaining participation and resources through the project including guidelines in regards to the relocation of members.
• Research and Evaluation – a needs assessment has been conducted, goals are clear and there are measurement processes in place to collect data and review those goals.
• Political Climate – there exists positive history and environment surrounding power and decision making. Political climate may be within the group as a whole, systems within the group or networks of people;
• Resources – there is access to the required resources. Resources refer to four types of capital: environmental, in-kind, financial, and human;
• Catalysts – the collaboration was preceded due to the existence of problem (s) or the reason (s) for collaboration to exist required a comprehensive approach;
• Policies / Laws / Regulations – the collaboration can function effectively under the existing policies, laws, and / or regulations or these can be altered or created
• History – the group has a history of working cooperatively and solving problems;
• Connectedness – members are connected and have established informal and formal communication networks at all levels;
• Leadership – there are leaders who promote, facilitates and support team building, and who can capitalize on diversity and individual, group and organizational strengths;
• Group Development – this collaboration was mobilized to address important issues. There is a communication system and formal information channels that permit the exploration of issues, goals and objectives; and,
• Understanding Stakeholders – the collaboration understands the stakeholders, including the people, cultures, values and habits.
Using the factors outlined above as a focus of discussion may reduce separation within the group and move group conversation from generic discussion to focused dialogue leading to sound decision making, and action. Open and honest communication within the group can increase group effectiveness and commitment. It also assists with viewing issues and problems in a holistic manner. Open and honest communication within the collaboration and with stakeholders is critical to success.
Another key area to be addressed is the setting of direction and focus for the collaboration. Ensuring a clear and understood direction and focus between all parties for a collaboration defines the purpose of the collaboration as what its members seek to create. Setting the direction and focus begins with establishing the vision, mission, values, and principles. Defining the income (s) further establishes identity and fundamental purpose. Activities also need to be aggregated to provide value to the collaborative group and to stakeholders. Multiple activities with similar foci can confuse. Task / role clarity can create greater involvement, dialogue and understanding. Applying the range of factors above to the processes and contexts of the cooperation results in a greater shared understanding of what the cooperation stands for, where it's going, the internal and external environment, and how it intends to make its outcomes a reality.
Collaboration as a Continuum Collaboration often means different things to different people, it is useful to think about collaboration as a continuum. Parties may consider themselves in relationships that vary from lower-intensity exchanges, in which the groups are more independent, to higher-intensity relationships, in which they are more interdependent. In one model (Kaplan, 1991), these differences in intensity are reflected in four common terms: networking, cooperation, coordination, and collaboration.
Networking Cooperation Coordination Collaboration Lower-intensity 'Higher-intensity Independence' Interdependence
1. Networking Organizations have a networking relationship when they exchange information in order to help each organization do a better job.
2. Coordination Organizations have a coordinating relationship when they modify their activities so that together, they provide better services to their constituents.
3. Cooperation When organizations cooperate, they not only share information and make adjustments in their services – they share resources to help each other do a better job.
4. Collaboration in a collaborative relationship, organizations help each other expand or enhance their capacities to do their jobs. (Axner, 2007)
Trust and Collaboration The development of trust in nurturing collaborative relationships is a vital skill for leaders (Tschannen-Moran, 2001). Trust is built on perception and history. How our motives and activities are perceivable determines if others will trust us. If we trust, we share. If not, we do not. How other's perceive us is their reality-inside of our own motives. If we are perceiving as promoting our own article or trying to create our own "empire", others are related to become involved and to share. This applies to organizations and individuals.
Affect- based trust are feelings of emotional involvement and sincere caring for each others welfare. Cognition-based trust is the belief that others are competent and responsible. Both of these forms of trust are the foundations for collaboration in organizations (McAllister, 1995). Interpersonal trust is also viewed as a key to facilitating and enabling coordinated social interactions (Coleman, 1988).
Learning to Lead Collaboration People can tend not to collaborate, this may be caused by issues of understanding, time, our work environments or politics. Collaboration is a relatively new concept and is unfamiliar to many people. We were taught in school to compete and that the world is survival of the fittest. Collaboration can seem to run contrary to what we were taught to do and be. If people are used to seeing knowledge as a scarce resource (and through ownership of knowledge it can create increased power for the individual or group) people may be less inclined to engage in open idea exchange and collaboration.
Innovation needs to occur in an environment of experimentation. However, if innovative ideas are to be effective, they need some structure to allow for consistency. The environment should foster both innovation and standardization.
Politics and bureaucracy also need to be addressed and understood within the organizational context and the context of the collaborative effort. Good ideas are not always the ones that are implemented. Ideas that are connected to the right people in the right positions can often gain acceptance quickly and easily. Who has power? Influence on key decisions sometimes rests outside of formal processes. Sometimes, people on the "outside" have a substantial impact on key decision makers. Ignoring other stakeholders can sink new ideas and innovations.
Tools for Collaboration The IT industry has recognized that collaboration and social networking is the way of the future and there is a strong move to create products which seek to improve productivity by virtualizing communications and business processes. People and organizations are looking at ways to connect with each other properly and Web 2.0 products are being designed to fill those needs. However we already have easy access to tools such as video and tele conferencing, chat, bulletin boards and email – simple tools which enable groups to communicate. Many tools are readily available as open source software or at low cost making them accessible to all sectors. There are also more advanced products such as secure instant messaging, screen sharing and other groupware tools. These types of tools enable geographically dispersed teams to come together for virtual meetings enabling for time and cost savings, less travel, and improved communications flow.
Conclusion Trust, collaboration, sharing, freedom of ideas, are expressions of belief systems and culture. When we debate the role of collaboration in an organization, we are debating our views of how the organization as a whole should be organized, power distributed, diversity allowed, and decisions made. Collaboration reflects a point of view: that by working together partners, formal or informal, can bring different perspectives to bear to solve a problem and bring about change. In order for collaboration to occur successfully within an organization there needs to be a supportive culture and work environment, encouragement from senior managers and a rewards system which reflects the importance of collaborative practices. For collaboration to be successful between organizations there must be clarity, direction and dialogue.
Resources For more information about collaborative software go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaborative_software
Axner, M. 2007, Promoting Coordination, Cooperative Agreements, and Collaborative Agreements Among Agencies. The Community Toolbox accessed 17/12/07 at [http://ctb.ku.edu/tools/en/sub_section_main_1229.htm]
Borden, LM 1997, Community collaboration: When the whole is greater than the sum of parts. Unpublished doctor dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. (Quoted in Borden & Perkins, 1999)
Borden, LM & Perkins, DF 1999, Assessing Your Collaboration: A Self Evaluation Tool. Journal of Extension, accessed 17/12/07 at http://www.joe.org/joe/1999april/tt1.html
Center for Creative Leadership, 2007, What's Next? The 2007 Changing Nature of Leadership Survey, accessed 17/12/07 at http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/WhatsNext.pdf
Coleman, JS 1988, Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology 94 (Supplement). 95-120.
Hogue, T. Perkins, D. Clark, R. Bergstrum, A. Slinski, M. & Associates, 1995, Collaboration framework: Addressing community capacity. Columbus, OH: National Network for Collaboration.
Kagan, SL 1991, United we stand: Collaboration for childcare and early education services. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1-3.
Keith, JG, Perkins, DF, Zhou, Z., Clifford, MC, Gilmore, B., & Townsend, MZ 1993, Building and maintaining community coalitions on behalf of children, youth and families. Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station Research Report (529). East Lansing, MI: Institute for Children, Youth, and Families.
McAllister, DJ 1995, Affect and cognition – based trust as foundations for interpersonal cooperation in organizations. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology Journal, 38: 24-59
Tschannen-Moran, M. 2001, Collaboration and the need for trust, Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 39 Iss. 4.