You’ve heard of collaboration. At Greenlight we talk about it all the time and it’s at the centre of almost everything that we do. But what does it actually mean? Well, the dictionary definition of collaboration is ‘the action of working with someone to produce something’. These 9 words explain it quite nicely but the full explanation of collaboration requires so much more.
Collaboration has been around for…ever. It’s not just humans either
Collaboration is often seen as a modern phenomenon - another management initiative dreamed up by corporate executives in their eternal struggle to draw out the best performance from their staff.
Actually, collaboration has been going on since the very beginning. It’s not just humans either, there is a wealth of examples of animals collaborating in the wild to ensure their mutual survival. We’ve all seen David Attenborough and his films of animals working together. The obvious example is the female lion, hunting in packs to bring down animals multiple times their size in order to feed the entire pride. Meerkats work in large groups such that that whilst some members of the group relax and enjoy the sun, the others are standing on their back legs looking out for predators. When a predator is spotted, the alarm is sounded and they all run for their burrows - where they no doubt kill time waiting for the predator pass by working on their next TV advert!
These methods are passed down through the generations. When the animals are young, their parents teach them the things that they were taught by their parents and also what they have learnt in their lifetimes. This is why, when young animals lose their parents before they have a chance to learn these vital skills they often lack the knowledge to survive.
Symbiosis is not Collaboration
Collaboration is everywhere in the animal kingdom but for the most part only within a species. Or more accurately, only within a particular group/community/collective of a single species.
There are lots of examples where animals from different species have a mutually beneficial relationship - the oxpecker bird and the rhino, the plover and the crocodile, sharks and remora. But these are not instances of collaboration. Why? Because the animals are not working to a shared goal. The plover cleans the teeth of the crocodile because it’s an easy meal and the reason the crocodile allows this is because it is removing food stuck between teeth, which can be painful and cause infection. This is an example of a symbiotic relationship.
The only example of cross-species collaboration from the animal kingdom that I can think of is the olive baboon and the elephant. The elephant digs holes for water and lets the baboon have water as well. In return, the baboon keeps lookout from the treetops and alerts the group of approaching predators, the shared goal being the safe gathering of water. I’m sure there are others.
Effective collaboration has 3 core attributes
There are many variables that dictate whether effective collaboration is possible. We’ve discussed how symbiosis is not an example of collaboration because it lacks a shared goal. However this just one of the three core attributes that must always be present if you are to succeed.
- A common goal
- Two or more individuals
- Co-ordination of individual contributions from every member of the team towards that common goal
Collaboration needs communication but not necessarily verbal
Whilst you might think it is vital, sharing the same spoken language isn’t necessarily needed for effective collaboration. Before you start, you need to decide what the goal is. What are you aiming for? If you work in air traffic control and your aim is to ensure the safe landing of all planes coming into your airport, it seems pretty important that you and the pilots speak the same language. If you’re on holiday and your aim is to have fun on the beach all you need to do is pull out a football, start playing and no doubt others will join in. But in both cases there are two or more people, a common goal and individual contributions from everyone.
History contains a vast number of examples of human achievement. To name a few; the pyramids, Stonehenge, the D-Day landings, putting man on the moon (so long as you’re not a sceptic), the development of the internet and social media. Collaboration is a common theme throughout all these.
These are my thoughts on what collaboration is and has hopefully given you a few things to think about. It’s two or more people, working together to produce something. There’s some work to do with regards to putting that into context in the business environment but that’s coming up soon. If you have any comments or points to add please do. I’d love to hear from you.
You may be interested to know that there are 3 main types of symbiotic relationship:
Mutalism – a mutually beneficial relationship
Commensalism – one party benefits and the other is unaffected
Parasitism – one party benefits and the other is adversely affected
You might want to consider whether these descriptions fit any of the relationships in your business life!
About the author
Declan has done a little bit of everything at Greenlight. He has been a billable consultant on multiple engagements and led our managed service proposition but is now fully settled in running all things marketing.