Collaboration: what it means really

imageA quick online trawl shows that there’s certainly no shortage of businesses claiming to work ‘collaboratively’. But then a closer look will reveal that for many, collaboration is really just another way of saying they work with other businesses. More often than not, the term itself is little more than a buzzword used to pad out the value proposition.

Which is a shame, because real collaboration in business is a powerful instrument worthy of far more than mere lip service. Basically, when collaboration gets invited to the party, everyone stands to benefit.

So what does real collaborative intent in a working relationship actually look like? Herewith the necessary and sufficient conditions that underpin all true collaboration:

1. No ‘us’ and ‘them’  The usual buyer/supplier relationship is replaced by something more akin to a collective mindset, involving full two-way transfer of knowledge. The collaborative partner is materially on the same team – the idea of them being treated, say, as some kind of customer to be sold/upsold/cross-sold to, never comes into it.

image2. Neither party solely owns the risk  When this holds true, no one is left to carry the can should the project fail. If it doesn’t work out then the costs are effectively split – it isn’t the case that one party picks up the tab whilst the other merely collects their fee and moves on.

3. Neither party solely owns the reward.  Uncommon, though no less essential, project revenue doesn’t flow into one partner’s coffers before being paid on to settle the second partner’s bill. Instead it is viewed as entering a notional holding ‘pot’ from which all earnings are paid according to prior agreement.

So there it is – shared knowledge/aspiration, shared risk, shared reward – it isn’t rocket science but get these in place and you’re well on the way to true collaboration…