07 September 2008

Is Collaboration an emergent property?

Stephen Bounds and Frank Guerino have been discussing Cutting out KM on ActKM for the last few days, and in a recent reply to me, Stephen answered my question about collaboration as a KM technique with the definition "collaboration is simply working together to learn and create new knowledge and/or information assets". My response to him made me put some thoughts to paper that I hadn't recently tied down so I post them below so they won't be forgotten.
I used to have pretty much the same definition for collaboration until I read an article about Collaboration, Cooperation and Communucation. It started me thinking about the intersection of Collaboration and Culture and my old definition started to break down. I thought hard about what was left after one took cooperation and communication out, and decided that collaboration is actually hundreds or thousands of little decisions about why, when, how and who to communicate with and cooperate with from task to task to acheive a greater goal.

This left me a little in the wilderness until I recently read a book called Collaboration 2.0 when they declared it was an emergent property of the system of complex relationships we refer to as an organisation's culture. Not sure how robust this little theory is (my definition of culture is a little deeper than that) and I would love to hear Joe Firestone's take on it, however it did make sense in my own cases. For me alone to collaborate, I need to do so with another. To build an environment when individuals are motivated to collaborate requires far more than a management dictate, or the execution of a checklist. It requires the type of "gardening" or fine-tuning that a wiki community often benefits from. The ingredient often missing from case studies of wiki failures.
This may all sound like gibberish (and it may well be), but it is important to me because it builds the foundation for how we should actually approach Collaboration from a management perspective. I have blogged about some of these management principles in a previous post about what makes Enterprise 2.0 work.

Got an opinion about Collaboration as an emergent proprty of culture? How do you get your team/department/organisation to collaborate? Post a comment and let me know. Iron sharpens iron!

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