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Maybe this quotation from Margaret Mead is a good definition of collaboration. That’s the theme of the July-August 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review but the articles carry a consistent underlying message: True collaboration is difficult to attain and it rarely works. Describing academic collaboration, writer John Abele calls this “something of an oxymoron…driven by long-standing rituals of institutionalized seniority, professional and financial incentives to build higher silos with thicker walls.” All is set in the midst of diverse perspectives, biases, different cultures, hidden agendas, cynicism, and groupthink. Are the corporate worlds, the U.S. Congress, most churches or professional organizations any better? We talk collaboration but individual egos, competition, or needs for recognition and power get in the way. Even so the HBR articles offer hope.
True collaboration appears when several elements are developed and cultivated. These include:
- A shared purpose in which people combine their unique talents for a collective mission that goes beyond “personal gain, the intrinsic pleasures of autonomous creativity” or aspirations to be the leader.
- A vision of change that is beyond what any of the players can bring about individually. This is a vision of such importance that people will work together who previously had no reason or desire to cooperate.
- A collaborative culture where team members care about the collective mission more than about their own personal fortunes.
- Mutual trust and the belief that other group members are able and committed to furthering the shared purpose (like kids making music or like players, managers, and coaches on athletic teams working to win a championship).
- Ownership in the planning and outcomes of the collaborative issue.
- A collaborative community united around the common cause that is not built on verbiage or on the pronouncements of some charismatic leader.
Collaborations like this have been called “vital and difficult, but learnable.” They’re also indispensible in our networked world and in the Christian world where the Great Commission is still a call from heaven.
What are your comments or experiences with collaborative efforts that succeeded or failed?