What Exactly is Collaboration? Actionable Books Blog


“Collaboration is one of the most misused words today. It is thrown out in conversations without regard to what it actually means.”

—Rod McKay, Chair, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Calgary, Alberta

Our systems and organizational cultures do not function properly. Our regulatory and legal systems too often fail both the proponent and the opponent. Why do we continue to waste time, resources and people on so many poorly managed projects?

Break Through to Yes promises to deliver a method for making collaboration work for you and your company. It offers a guide to creating the conditions that promote innovation and breakthrough within and across your business and network. Seize this opportunity to join a movement of progressive, principled and successful leaders who are daily creating those conditions.

My career is focused on building capacity in people to work together, decide for themselves and get things done well. I have sought out professional development as a mediator, facilitator and coach. These are powerful professions for our world and great skills for leaders. Too often, I hear leaders appropriate terms like, “I coached her,” “I mediated that conflict,” and “we collaborated.” These statements are disingenuous, ignorant and diminish professionals in those fields.

Collaboration, to many, is getting together to work on something. This definition of collaboration is like defining architecture as “we draw stuff that gets built.” Architecture is far more than drawing stuff. Would you lease office space on the 90th floor of an office tower designed by a person that draws stuff?

Why would we skim the surface of working together when there is a growing tower of expertise and networks to guide you to create significant value, engage your people, realize new opportunities and create a strongly positive identity? Collaboration is a way of leading, an organizational culture and a power network.

When you Google “collaboration” you get at least 278,000,000 results. Seems there is a lot of interest in learning about collaboration. But how is collaboration represented?

Merriam Webster defines collaborate as “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.” This could be the definition of a meeting or what a football team does. I prefer the following definition:

Collaboration is highly diversified teams working together inside and outside a company with the purpose of creating value by improving innovation, customer relationships and efficiency while leveraging technology for effective interactions in the virtual and physical space.

Let’s make a joint proclamation that we value collaboration as a powerful way of leading, not merely an action. To collaborate is not simply to work together, it is an organizational culture.

Characteristics of Boundless Collaborations: Dream big and you will create great.

  • We keep our intentions authentic
  • We build relationship and trust first
  • We invite and respect diversity of opinion
  • We establish key questions that matter
  • We listen
  • We seek new ideas from the collective wisdom
  • We are open to unexpected outcome
  • We take as long as it takes (“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb)
  • We commit to action and maintain accountability

So what are the questions that matter? From our list of significant challenges we face, choose with courage and vision. Remember not to sell or attempt to convince others. Understand what the underlying interests are and be open to what arises.

David B. Savage is the author of Break Through to Yes: Unlocking the Possible within a Culture of Collaboration, which shows us how to avoid the common mistakes and build our organizational practices toward true collaboration.

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David B Savage

David B Savage