Collaboration – Not the Vichy Variety

Beer, the Officers’ Mess and Collaboration

It is not uncommon in military circles to have a weekly after work drink. Typically occurring on a Friday afternoon, the officers get together and kibitz over a few libations. Easy to dismiss as frivolous, there is much more going on here. In the words of one retired US Air Force Lt. Colonel I worked with: “I got more work done in 30 minutes at the officer’s mess than I did all week.” His observation was that “… everyone was there, everyone was relaxed and we could quickly work through problems and come up with solutions.

Given the hierarchical structure of military organizations, why would a beer, an officers’ mess and a Friday kibitzing be necessary? For the Lt. Colonel, his observation was that the casual environment promoted informal collaboration that led to more formal decisions and actions been taken the following week. The Friday meeting promoted a social bond that is less obvious in a formal meeting setting. This setting allowed people to work on a problem and not focus on the position or rank of the person at the table. There are valuable lessons from the military for any organization. Nurturing and supporting the ephemeral qualities collaboration is critical to achieving hard and tangible business results. Leaving the officers’ mess, it is time to go and find a definition (don’t worry, I will be your designated blogger).

Collaboration is…

As a person interested in history, I cannot hear the word collaboration and not see the image of a shaved-headed French woman, perhaps clutching a baby, leaving for an uncertain future while being mocked by her neighbours who have just been liberated from the Nazis.

Jeering neighbours after the D-Day libration

For me, the word has a dark recent-history.  For the business world, the lesson from 65+ years ago is that collaboration can be positive or negative within your organization.

Rehabilitating Collaboration – Its Historical and Current Meanings

Collaboration’s Latin origin means ‘to labor together’; this definition is more relevant to the current business context and can be found in most current definitions. For example, the Association for Information and Image Management or AIIM defines it as:

Collaboration is a working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit.

Collaboration Lifecycles and Models

A companion to the AIIM’s definition is its lifecycle model. Shown as a recursive loop, it involves eight elements.

AIIM's Collaboration Lifecycle

AIIM’s Collaboration Lifecycle

Lifecycle Element Definition
Awareness We become part of a working entity with a shared purpose
Motivation We drive to gain consensus in problem solving or development
Self-synchronization We decide as individuals when things need to happen
Participation We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate
Mediation We negotiate and we collaborate together and find a middle point
Reciprocity We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity
Reflection We think and we consider alternatives
Engagement We proactively engage rather than wait and see

 

Beyond a definition and a lifecycle, AIIM also provides two flavours of collaboration tools. Flavor one is “Synchronous collaboration” such as online meetings and instant messaging; flavor two is “Asynchronous collaboration” such as shared workspaces and annotations.

A quick survey of the literature finds that other definitions are kissing-cousins to AIIM’s definition. As well, the lifecycle model and technology flavors are very consistent with most development views of collaboration. As a result, the work that AIIM has done is a good place to start when thinking about and managing organization collaboration and will be the basis of (hopefully) further blogs on the subject. However, lifecycle models and definitions is thirsty work – let’s head back to the officers’ mess.

 

Collaboration – Beyond Vichy

The word collaboration has being rehabilitated since the dark days of the Second World War. Thus, whether it is in an officers’ mess, a board room or around a water cooler; collaboration is critical to the good functioning of organizations. In future blogs, I hope to drill down a bit more on a model which helps an organization balance the natural inclination to focus on technology while not losing sight of people or the business purpose that collaboration support. In the meantime, enjoy a Friday afternoon beer this coming week with your co-workers (or libation of your choice); and remember collaboration usually goes better with some salty peanuts.