Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What is Collaboration?

We all use the word collaboration pretty freely. As meeting planners, we say we "collaborate" with the client to plan an event or we "collaborate" with a team to determine an outcome. What does this really mean?

I thought I would Google the word "collaboration" and see what I found. According to Wikipedia, “collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus." I knew immediately I was in trouble since I had no idea what recursive process meant. So I looked for a reasonable explanation.

Back to Wikipedia I went, to learn that recursion is the process a procedure goes through when one of the steps of the procedure involves rerunning the procedure. This sounds like a circular definition if ever I saw one. An analogy Wikipedia provided was that a procedure is like a menu in that it is the possible steps, while running a procedure is actually choosing the courses for the meal from the menu.

The question for me now goes back to, do we typically use the recursive process when we are collaborating with a team on a project? I believe the answer is “absolutely!”

Let's use the menu and the meal analogy again. When we work collaboratively with a team, we are looking at the many options available to us to come to consensus on an issue or to produce an outcome. By listening to input from all members of the team, coming up with the options (menu), analyzing those options, and then selecting the best solution or plan (meal), the team has used the recursive process to reach consensus. I think we all know this as “Brainstorming” but it is a process that can be utilized throughout the entire project, not just at the beginning.

I think if I were to define collaboration, I would also include words like: communication, respect, trust, knowledge, experience, and negotiation. It is clear to me that, by truly collaborating with others on a project, we have the opportunity to glean the best of everyone’s expertise and come to consensus on the optimal conclusions.

- Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises