If you’re anything like me, you get all twitchy when people start talking about collaboration. Apparently, our likely future is an orgy of collaborative work in an anti-hierarchical land of bliss. I’ll be the guy with his towel wrapped tightly around his middle and boxers underneath.
From where I sit, collaboration is nearly always championed by people who want to be in charge of stuff. They’re the very people who make collaboration impossible. It always feels like collaboration is some sort of sophisticated code for “do it my way.”
If you can believe it, my views on collaboration are softening.
This year, I took a series of experimental classes with a number of geniuses in educational technology and reform. Their ardent belief in the collaborative god initially gave me the willies. But, I soldiered on.
(In our house, you don’t have to eat everything on your plate. You do, however, have to take a “No Thank You Bite.”It’s okay of you don’t want to eat something. But, the biggest sin in our house is “contempt prior to investigation.” The “No, Thank You Bite” rule applies to young and old. It applies to more than food.)
I was really surprised.
When it works, collaboration is an amazing and explosive experience. Unleashing the synergy of a team of co-learners creates an avalanche of insight and output. The biggest problem with collaboration isn’t bossiness or proselytizing.
If I hadn’t experienced it, I could never have imagined taking a class where my problem was keeping up with a torrent of insight that came from the rest of the class. As we got good at mining the material and developed some separation of labor, the group exploded the content. Learning multiplied and went exponential.
This collaboration was computer mediated. The class was a small world with students on four continents and 10 time zones. We used video, whiteboards, mind mapping, chat note taking, live Googling, twitter, and a host of social media tools.
The problem was trying to figure out how to synthesize the learning into something usable. It got so intense that it occasionally seemed like each student was off in their own world navigating the explosion of awareness.
That actually doesn’t seem like it would be very useful in most work settings.
My sense is that the proponents of collaboration don’t really have much experience with it. Decisions have to be made before they are perfectly informed. More information and better insight is rarely what’s missing from decision making.
Great information work usually involves getting from plan to delivery. Add some more time to the planning process is a good idea. Making it a sport is a bad one.
Keep your eyes on this space. We’re wrapping up our first ever comprehensive analysis of social media in the HR and Recruiting sectors. The report will be available for sale on the 15th of October.