The collaboration field needs to cooperate

Eugene Kim looks at a variety of disciplines in the collaboration space, using LinkedIn network analysis to see if and how they are related. The resulting map, and Kim’s explanations are most interesting for anyone doing work related to enterprise collaboration.

According to Kim:

The densest cluster is the organizational development cluster, which is left of center. There are a bunch of skills here that are tightly interconnected, largely centered around leadership development, coaching, and group transformation.

The other large, dense clusters — management consulting, participatory processes, design thinking, and collaboration / technology — are largely distinct, although there is some bridging, mostly around learning-related skills. This makes sense: A high-performance group is a group that learns, a conclusion that you should draw regardless of your starting point.

The last sentence underlines my own focus for the past decade or more. Work is learning and learning is the work. Collaboration and learning go hand in glove.

Training, HR, OD, KM, IT, etc. use different models, speak different languages and go to separate conferences. However, they’re all in the business of collaboration. They just don’t do it with each other. Given the imperatives for continuous growth today, these disciplines need to give serious consideration to recombining their organizational DNA.

Just read a few professional journals and blogs and you will see that the same workplace issues are being faced by HR, IT, OD, KM, Marketing, Communications and T&D departments. Similar complaints and parallel strategies are being developed in isolation in each of these areas. We really need to get away from our self-imposed tribes and adopt network thinking and practices.

All levels of complexity exist in our world but more of our work (especially knowledge-intensive work) deals with complex problems, whether they be social, environmental or technological. Complex environments and problems are best addressed when we organize as networks; our work evolves around developing emergent practices; and we cooperate to achieve our goals. In the network era, collaboration specialists need to cooperate. Cooperation is quite different from collaboration.

In many ways it’s a case of the blind men and the elephant. We are constrained by the blinders of our profession’s models. That’s why I like to take my models from a variety of fields, as no single discipline has a network perspective. Everyone is struggling to keep up with change but most are using outdated tools and models. As Lou Sagar commented on Umair Haque’s 2009 post, ” … the emergence of new business models are ahead of the organizational framework to embrace and manage the impact.” Not much has changed. That pretty well sums up the problem in my mind. We are all blind men unable to understand the new realities of work.


I believe that a wide range of disciplinary silos can be incorporated into one support function. Professionals could have a variety of roles, depending on organizational needs, but all have to be focused on the organization and its environment. Separate departments create tribes and internal cultures that may be at cross-purposes with other departments or the overall organization. With hyper-linked information and access to expertise, not only are internal departments of less value, they could subvert the organization’s future by not responding quickly and appropriately.

I am sure there’s more than one way to achieve better functioning organizations but tearing down the artificial disciplinary walls would be a good place to start. With a networked, cooperative mindset, it is possible.

3 Responses to “The collaboration field needs to cooperate”

  1. Bruce Waltuck

    Great post. Appreciate you references to complexity and Cynefin as frameworks for response in various domains of challenge/problem.

    Can you elaborate on how you define and distinguish collaboration and cooperation? Thanks!

  2. Luis Alberola

    Absolutly. Even within corporations, how collaboration and social business projects are being conducted would benefit from such coopération. We have done some work into how différent departments (HR, communications, IT, légal,…) approach these projects and their différences of approaches (and those of their “suppliers”) are already making things almost impossible to manage.
    But tearing down disciplinary walls is à project in itself …


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