Collaboration – Is it Hard Wired?

I have written a series of blogs on the idea and background of organizational collaboration (Vichy, Definition, Lifecycle and 3Ps and a G over T). For this blog, I want to leave the organization and think about the question, why on earth would humans ever WANT to collaborate? In a modern setting, how does it help you by helping a fellow worker resolve a problem that he or she has? Or, go back a few hundred thousand years, why on earth would a hunter, gatherer or human in general want to collaborate?

A possible answer can be found in David Brooks’ book, The Social Animal (and subject of a previous blog). He discusses a “… generalized empathetic sense, which in some flexible way inclines us to cooperate with others. But there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that people are actually born with more structured moral foundations…” [p. 286]. Brooks goes on to describe five possible ‘moral concerns’. These concerns are common to all humans and all cultures and are:

  1. 1. Fairness/reciprocity: equal and unequal treatment
  2. 2. Harm/care: empathy, concern for suffering of others
  3. 3. Authority respect: reverence for and moral outrage against those who disparage authority
  4. 4. Purity/disgust: avoiding social contamination
  5. 5. In-group/loyalty: visceral loyalty to their group even if the group is arbitrary

Compare this to AIIM’s definition of collaboration, discussed in two previous blogs:

AIIM Collaboration Definition

AIIM Collaboration Definition


Humans are likely hardwired to collaborate, cooperate and be part of an organization (be it a tribe or modern organization). That is not to say that we will not look for a chance to advance our own cause (or personal-utility as economists like to say). This is why the collaboration model introduced in a previous blog includes the concept of Governance – someone has to mind the shop.

This of course leads to an interesting question of why do organizations spend time and resources encouraging collaboration – why does it not simply happen naturally? I suspect that a few individuals maximizing their utility obligate an organization to treat all its members as potential miscreants. Thus a few people end up dictating the cultural norms for an entire organization. I call this effect the ‘Propensity to Mediocrity’ and a subject of a future blog.

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  1. Pingback: The Propensity to Mediocrity | Organizational Biology & Other Thoughts

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