The word collaboration is so overused and overhyped it’s becoming meaningless. People refer to all software with a social component (Chat, messaging, document sharing, etc.) as collaboration software; and this causes confusion.
Even with the launch of new intranet software and other collaborative tools, some people still suffer from, and complain about, poor collaboration.
This forced us to ponder the true nature of collaboration and explore its many dimensions. Most importantly, we discovered that collaboration is a deeply human activity, and no tool on its own can solve the problem of poor collaboration.
This may seem obvious, but many people believe that “if you build it, they will come”, and if you just launch a tool like an intranet, the magic will happen. We know that organizational culture and managerial practices can either hinder or nurture collaboration, but it took a lot of failure and org dev theory to discover that fact.
A useful definition for collaboration
In response to bad collaboration we wanted to craft a definition that could inspire a more holistic, useful, and simpler perspective. We eventually landed upon this definition:
Two or more people working together towards shared goals.
That’s it — just nine words to define collaboration. It’s a very simple definition. But simplicity is necessary when collaboration has become overly-hyped, where social business vendors are trying to sell new ways of working to confused companies, and where business experts constantly stress the importance of building more collaborative and innovative organizations.
This simple definition includes three parts:
- Two or more people (team)
- Working together (processes)
- Towards shared goals (purpose)
This definition doesn’t mention technology or software, but it does provide a solid framework for understanding what collaboration is and isn’t.