It’s a question posed by Stu to which I was going to write a comment, but the comment got too big, so I turned it into a post.
Working together is a good thing
In most situations working together is a good thing. There are all sorts of sayings down through time that would support this:
- Many hands make light work.
- Two minds are better than one.
- Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. (Proverbs 1000-600 b.c.)
So it’s long been recognised that working together produces more.
There are constraints to working together
Although we know that working together is a good thing we work within a set of constraints. Some of these constraints are physical, some of them are more to do with our individuality as humans.
The time and space barrier
Two of the major physical barriers to working together are time and space, we cannot all be in the same place at the same time.
One of the ways we overcome these barriers is to arrange a time and a place where we can work together – we call this a meeting. Meetings are as old as mankind, we’ve always done it. Overcoming the time and space barriers by having a meeting is an expensive thing to do, but it’s also a very rich experience where we use all of our senses and all of our intelligence if it’s done well (considering how long we have been doing meetings it’s a mystery to me why there are so many bad ones).
One of the reasons we write, draw, paint, sculpt, model is to overcome the time and space barriers. Art creates an expression of our thoughts or feelings that transcends the time in which it was created, it can also transcend the space in which it was created. Expressions in art may not, however, provide the richest experience. When I visit art galleries I love to read the labels next to the art because it gives me a richer experience. At one gallery I went to they had a recorded commentary from the artist, this gave an even richer experience, I suspect that had the artist been there in person the experience would have been even richer.
The human barriers
We are all individuals, as such we work with other people in different ways. There are some things we love to do together, there are some things we prefer to do on our own. Each of us has individual preferences. If we are to work together in an effective way we need to build a whole set of things between each of the individuals: trust, respect, experience, understanding, etc.. These things do not necessarily come easily and normally do not come quickly.
My best experience of working together has been on teams where we had worked together long enough, on a common goal, where the human barriers no longer existed and we were able to work in freedom from them. I’ve recently been on FranklinCovey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course. They call this type of working “synergistic working”. As a British person there is something about the word “synergistic” that sticks in my throat, but I know what they mean. Synergy is about working in such a way that the result is greater than the sum of the parts. Another way of thinking about it could be the principle of resonance.
What does collaboration mean to me?
So, back the Stu’s question.
Collaboration is working together in a way that tends towards synergy.
What does collaboration technology mean to me?
Collaboration technology is a set of technology that is aiming to enable collaboration outside the time and space barriers while still providing an appropriate richness of experience. It’s the richness of the experience that helps us to overcome the human barriers.
I’ve talked before about the different ways that we talk on a telephone conference call. I am sure that I have a completely incorrect impression of some people because I have only interacted with them on conference calls. Conference calls are definitely not a synergistic experience, there isn’t enough richness for that.
There have been many occasions when I have built up an impression of someone from their emails, only to have it smashed to bits by meeting them in person.
I regularly find myself in the situation where the technology has enabled me to overcome the time and space barriers without providing the appropriate richness of experience. In that sense then, for me, collaboration technology is still a yet to be fulfilled promise.