According to The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results, some of the reasons that workplace collaboration fails is due to:
- overconfidence in our collective thinking;
- peer pressure to conform; and
- reliance on others to do the work.
The article goes on to show that collaboration works when:
- we work with people with different skills;
- we do what each person does best; and
- we all contribute our own work.
This shows the underlying problem with collaboration. To be effective, collaborative work needs to be done by cooperative people. In cooperation for the network era, I explain that cooperation is freely sharing, without direction from above, and without expectation of direct reciprocity. The three identified problems with collaboration are due to the nature of collaborative work. Someone is in charge and the objective is usually not shared equally by all group members. Therefore some may be prone to slack off or not care. Others will be more interested in their status within the group, and how they are perceived by the leader.
In the cases where collaboration works, it is more like cooperation. The example given of Lennon and McCartney is one of two equals, not in talent, but in their position in the group, and their ability to leave it. Successful collaboration requires cooperation as the basis. Getting work done then becomes an agreed-upon objective, and a temporary hierarchy is established, if necessary.
The challenge for working in today’s networked economy is to connect cooperation with collaboration. For the past century, too much work in too many organizations was focused on collaboration to the exclusion of cooperation. It is time to reconnect these solitudes. Plans and structure are necessary to get work done, but open and free participation ensures creativity and a focus on long term value. When dealing with complex challenges, collaboration without cooperation yields efficiency without effectiveness, especially if creative solutions are needed.