Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Four levels of collaboration - the role of "the others"

I am continuing to work this week on the topic of collaboration, and looking at different methodologies or structures for collaborative work. Looking at it from the point of view of the part of the business that requires collaboration, I'm beginning to think that maybe there are different levels of collaboration, related to the different levels of involvement of the "other parties".

I am starting to see four levels here.

The first and most basic level is where collaboration involves using the work products of others.  These work products could be in a shared library for example, and the others have no involvement other than creating the work products in the first place. They may not even know their work products have been reused.  This collaboration is so basic,  you might argue that it's not collaboration at all.

The second level is where the business needs to access opinion from others.  The opinion collection might be in the form of a survey, or open-ended feedback, or in the form of some sort of online ideas jam or brain storming session.  Once the others have provided their opinions, ideas or feedback, they have no further involvement in creating the outcome (the new strategy, the new approach, whatever it might be that needed to be informed by those opinions). Although they have an interest in the outcome, and would like to see their opinions acted on, they don't have any further involvement until the outcome is ready.

The third level is where the business needs to access advice, knowledge and experience from others.  Collecting this knowledge might happen through a community of practice, or through a peer assist, or through a virtual peer assist.  The others provide advice, provide guidance, are involved in questioning the business unit that originated the collaboration, and have an advisory role in creating the outcome. However the outcome is not primarily for them, it is for the originating business unit. So althrough they are involved in creation, they don't have equal ownership of the outcome.

The fourth level is where the business needs actively to work with people from elsewhere as part of a short lived co-located team, or a longer lived virtual team.  It needs the skills and input and judgment and effort from the others, and the outcome is co-created with the others. All parties have equal ownership and equal involvement in the outcome.


Thomas said...

I enjoyed your input on the #KMers chat today!

I am confused by a statement you make in this post: "This collaboration is so basic, you might argue that it's not collaboration at all."


My take is that work products are where the KM really counts. We have become a society of shoppers, commentors & critics. We need to bring back creation.

W. E. B. Du Bois popularized the concept of a 'double-consciousness' as a contradiction that created internal conflict between being African & American simultaneously. Of course, identity struggles are not exclusive to racial minorities.

In our remix-culture, it is common to be both creator & consumer at the same time. As we collaborate & compete at the same time, we are also expected to streamline while we improve. These contradictions drive us to worry a great deal about 'how we are seen'.

Social networking tools now allow us to measure our Twitter follower growth and work on building our Klout score. However, it also makes it so easy to participate without actually co-creating.

Du Bois pointed out that the danger of looking at ourselves through the eyes of others, is that it can drive out that which makes us genuine, insightful & unique.

Authoring is a powerful way to combat this danger. The lowly document artifact provides the opportunity for a professional to PROFESS something. Too often, we let our 'double-consciousness' create the fear of rejection and fear of contradiction. Our real fears should be irrelevance and invisibility.

In my field of IT Management, the fear of being incorrect often leads to the creation of boiler-plate artifacts instead of the detailed analysis our customers expect. We are torn between acting out IT stereotypes and rebelling against those very stereotypes. The solution can only be self-actualization.

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Thomas

I think my argument would be that professing is not the same as collaborating. "Co" means "with", while profession is a solo activity. For example, I might re-use an argument that Confucius first published, but I would argue that I am not collaborating with Confucius, nor he with me.

Jack Vinson said...

For some reason, this discussion sounds like a parallel to the "tribes" ideas that have been floating around my circles for the last year or so. _Tribal_Leadership_ lists five stages of growing into a "tribe" - these levels seem to parallel what you are thinking here.

My blog post on the book, for anyone interested: http://blog.jackvinson.com/archives/2010/08/04/tribal_leadership.html

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