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3 Pillars Of Collaboration

Collaboration [defined] isn't hard … well, it’s not a hard concept to understand but can be a bugger to actually do right. Playing rugby isn't hard but to win a World Cup seems to be too hard for some.

Base collaboration comprises of 3 pillars upon which collaboration sits:
  1. Good Information
  2. Clear Communication
  3. Active Connections

If you don’t have the information then WHAT are you going to collaborate about?
If you struggle communicating then HOW are you going to collaborate?
And if you can’t connect the players (be that people, resources or ideas) then you’re going to struggle collaborating.

That’s it. Easy eh, get the pillars right and you’re well on your way - all you need for collaboration to occur is to have, in one “place”, information, communication and connections. Done deal!

Yeah right!
How many times have you thought you were going to collaborate with someone but the following occurs?
  • Someone “forgot” to copy you in on the agenda email (no information)
  • You realised there were new members on the project you don’t know (no connections)
  • You don’t know what the end goal is (unclear communication)
  • You’ve been working off your version of the document only to discover it’s already been superseded by version 5.1 (bad information)
… and any number of other situations that pulled one or more pillars from out underneath your collaboration world.

1: Information

As I have already pointed out good information is not as easy as it sounds and has its own set of defining attributes:
  • Available
  • Findable
  • Usable
And it’s not Ok to have only two in place, you MUST have all three attributes for any given piece of information and then it'll be called “good” by the reader/consumer/real person – more at the full posting.

Usual areas that assist with "information" - IT Department, Knowledge Management, Information Manager, Records Management, Library.

2: Communication

Clear communication can also be broken down:
  • Available
  • Timely
  • Relevant
As with comms you have to have all three attributes for it to be called "good".
For instance, don’t tell me about a past meeting that I should have been at (available and relevant but not timely. The most common failing within communication is not making it relevant - hence the perceived information overload, we are inundated with irrelevant information being communicated to us. It is, of course, why Google and many others want to learn more and more about you as it will help them up their relevancy score and in the(ir) perfect world advertising ceases to be advertising and becomes relevant information

Usual areas that assist with "communications" - Knowledge Management, Comms, Public Relations, Marketing .

3: Connections

Good connections. Here I’m talking about connecting people to people, people to information/resources, information to information and resources to resources. All the connections that you need to ensure that the collaboration can flow.

Think of the connections as pipes along which the collaboration (in all it’s weird and wonderful forms) flow, just like water pipes.
  • Available
  • Open
  • Equitable
For instance, if one person can edit a page (person connecting to information) but another cannot the connection isn't equitable and therefore collaboration is impeded. Another example would be to have everyone around a white board but then take charge of the pens - the connection to a key resource is not available to all ("He who takes the minutes at a meeting, controls that meeting" - Mike Boyle, circa 1992)

Once again I will have a more detailed posting coming up soon …

Usual areas that assist with "connections" - Knowledge Management, HR, social club, the "office clowns", IT, C-level staff.

Having the pillars in place means collaboration CAN occur but it says nothing of the quality of that collaboration. Truly great collaboration (i.e., painless, smooth and ultimately successful) occurs within an environment that has:
  • Shared objectives;
  • Sense of urgency and commitment;
  • Dynamic process;
  • Sense of belonging;
  • Open communication;
  • Mutual trust and respect;
  • Complementary, diverse skills and knowledge;
  • Intellectual agility
(source: ‘collaboration’ from my definition)

You will notice that the majority of these attributes are not technology delivered - it’s about people. Technology can assist with these but do not be fooled by vendors selling “collaboration services”, IT Departments installing “collaboration systems” or consultants determining your “collaboration architecture” – unless the people side is front and centre then it’s merely toys for the boys.

If you can take away the computers and still collaborate then adding technology may help the situation. If, however, you can’t get around a whiteboard and collaborate now adding in servers with SharePoint or jumping up into the Google cloud isn't going to assist.

Collaboration, it’s about people!


  1. THIS is what it's all about. Thanks for the post Mike!


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