Way Is The Highway
So Super About Collaboration?
What's So Super About Collaboration?
Most of us have no trouble agreeing that excessive competition is tough on an organization and on the market in which it does business. A predatory environment discourages people from sharing information, prevents the formation of group goals and just generally wipes out teamwork. Competition, while momentarily exciting for the winner, leaves losers feeling permanently lousy. And there are many more losers than winners.
Though our work lives are dominated by this kind of competition, the parts we most cherish are collaborative in nature. It is one of the human pleasures to team up with others. It is a relief to set aside the anxieties and pressures we associate with competition and the scarcity mentality and get a hug. A hug is the base unit of collaboration.
If competition is the repository for our most passionate values, collaboration is the repository for our most revered values: peace, love and understanding. We have a soft spot for collaboration that our rough competitive exteriors belie. All our utopias, from socialism to a Brave New World to The Force, are collaborative in character. That is their appeal, and also, ultimately, their undoing.
Tyrants to the Right and Left
Hallmarks of Collaboration:
Groupthink leads to inquisitions of perceived outsiders, and stultification of insiders. Think of corporate cultures so symbol-driven that they cause individuality, and ultimately their own organizational freshness, to wither and prevent the truth from being spoken.
Blurriness. When everyone has input into planning, planning loses focus. Think of the way Congress, the ultimate collaborative body in the United States, works and you have a fair critique of extreme collaboration: gridlock, waste, lack of critical judgment and countless false starts. An organization that doesnt pick winning ideas just keeps adding all ideasgood, bad, indifferentto its knowledge and operations base. This inclusiveness results in democracys downsidebloat.
Slowness. Consensus doesnt snap to, the way intimidated agreement does. It is a slow ooze forming and organizations lose momentum waiting for the ooze to arrive. In the time it takes your team to put on a play, you could have read it by yourself. Oftentimes, you could have even written it.
Leaderlessness. When everyone is encouraged to lead, the usual result is that no one does. Or leadership is replaced by alternating pressures: You got to do it your way last time, now its our turn. In prescribed collaboration, everyone is a leader. In reality, however, leadership is passed from hand to hand and it spends a lot of time in no ones hands at all.
Defenselessness. When everyone knows everything, because sharing is so important, there is no confidentiality and no firewalls. You are at the mercy of whoever sees you are vulnerable and crosses the street to beat you up. Flattened organizations, where only two job descriptions may exist (chief customer satisfaction officer and customer satisfaction associate) sacrifice defense to simplicity. The Khmer Rouge sought to make Kampuchea a flattened organization and drove city dwellers into the countryside to destroy existing hierarchies. But hierarchy is often healthy. Effective organizations usually find they need role variety, including the roles of warriors and champions.
Interiority. Collaborative groups have a way of becoming cross-eyed over time, focusing on subjects of interest exclusively to the group. Politics often force collaborative groups to think in severe us/them ways and to invest all resources in immediate concerns. This tendency is why Lee Iacocca scoffs at worker-owned enterprises.
Mercilessness. The many
are stronger than the one, is the motto of supercollaboration. It
is also the motto of fascism. The fasces of Mussolini was a bundle of Roman
sticks bound together. Individually, each stick could be snappedtogether,
they were unbreakable. A supercollaborative group is ferocious in its intolerance
of outsiders and oppressive in its domination of minority insiders.