Collaboration is a verb, an action, it is something that we do. People come together and collaborate to reach a common goal. Often, people need to collaborate to determine what that goal is, then collaborate more to determine how best to reach that goal. It is through effective communications that people collaborate. However, there's more then just communications to collaboration. In this article the "Esquire Guy" attempts to answer the question "What Makes a Perfect Collaboration? Weakness, Conflict and Doughnuts".
Decision making is about solving problems and solving problems requires collaboration. The tougher the problem, the more collaboration required. The genesis of any collaborative exercise is determining that there is a problem. Interestingly enough, not every problem requires a solution. There's an American adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and in the world of business decision making there are many times people feel compelled to "fix" things that aren't truly broken. As an example, this adage itself is "broken" in the sense that it's not proper English, but to "fix" it wouldn't have any effect on the meaning and only the existing and accepted cachet would be affected.
Who we collaborate with is just as important as what we collaborate about. As people come together to define a set of common goals and how to achieve those goals, they're making decisions. Collaboration is about making the best decision with the information available. Information not just in terms of data points and context, but also information in the form of expertise. As consideration is given to the different variables in the decision making process, ideally you'll have experts involved who can address, analyze, and make recommendations. The challenge is in balancing opposing recommendations against actionable timelines to make decisions and not become bogged down in the quagmire of "analysis paralysis". How many second opinions does one need?
How we collaborate is just as, if not more, important then what we collaborate about. Face to face, in a room, with a whiteboard is best. If you have the luxury of being able to bring everybody together into a single conference room to hash out the problem, goal, and how to get there, then you're very fortunate. If however, in today's global economy you find the people you need to collaborate with are spread across geographic locations other options must be employed. Telepresence is the most effective form of communications that bridges distances, allows people to gauge reactions through facial expressions, and share presentations with the ability to allow real-time edits and annotations. At Cisco we have a culture of using Telepresence during face-to-face meetings, not so much for the video aspect, but for application sharing and recording capabilities. You needn't be scattered across the globe to benefit from Telepresence.
Real-time or synchronous communications is not the only form of communications for collaboration. Asynchronous communications is just as important and bridging these two methods together is key to successful collaboration. Taking real-time synchronous communications from a Telepresence, conference call, or face-to-face meeting and posting it to a community for retrieval at a later time provides several benefits. It allows those who were and were not in attendance to review the meeting at their convenience. They may also post additional thoughts to the content and shape the agenda for the following meeting. Results and metrics may also be mapped to specific steps in the decision making process. Perhaps most important, because collaboration is about using expertise to make the best decisions, you're able to develop a knowledge base that provides a historical context for why you went in a particular direction and the results of that direction, which may be referenced in future scenarios that are similar in nature.
A perfect collaboration is knowing what you want to achieve, admitting you don't know how to do it (or at the very least admitting you don't know what you don't know), accepting advice from those that have knowledge and expertise, and executing a decision that drives toward the goal you want to achieve. The most perfect collaboration sessions also include doughnuts according to the "Esquire Guy" and I trust his expertise.