The 3 C’s – Communication, Consultation and Collaboration

[this is an old WaveAdept post archived here]

You've got the technology (be it Google Apps, SharePoint or whatever) and your IT people have integrated it, patched it, set you up and handed it over... now what? Well, for a start, sit back and congratulate yourself that your organisation is:
  • Saving costs (NZ$2 million per year for NZ Post with their Google Apps roll-out, and they've just started)
  • Freed up your IT staff to concentrate on your company's particular 'secret sauce'
  • No longer have to wait to benefit from the latest features
  • Instantly given access 'anywhere, any time and (almost) any device'
Really, celebrate that you have switched from old to new. But once the party is over you're going to have to get back to work getting the true benefits from your new toolset. And before you dive into the full on, "let's all collaborate, be open with everything and change the world" maybe planning out some interim steps to world domination would be a good idea.  And, by the way, this is where we at WaveAdept can help - we've done, we've learnt and we're adept (sic) at it - contact us. First, we must recognise that 'collaboration' does not replace everything that has gone before it.  In fact, collaboration is not a behaviour that fits all circumstances and certainly doesn't overcome all evils perceived within your organisation - how many times have you heard, "We're not open enough, we must become a collaborative organisation now!"?  Too many times I would warrant.Communication
Wikipedia tells us:
Communication is a process of transferring information from one entity to another. Communication processes are sign-mediated interactions between at least two agents which share a repertoire of signs and semiotic rules.
Ok, let's change 'entity'/'agent' to person, because that's where we focus our time.  In essence, it's taking information out of one head and trying to get it into another.  There is no talk of working towards a common goal, allowing for interaction or even ensuring that the information is used in any intended way, but of course all 'good' communication has elements of these underlying goals. A great way to differentiate communication from consultation and collaboration is to think what happens when there is an emergency - say a fire in your office.  Great communication from the fire wardens is vital in ensuring the safety of all, but it's certainly not the time to consult or collaborate on what to do next - I do not want to hear, "So, we have a fire on the second floor and we have multiple options on getting out so I thought I'd take a vote on what we should all do next" (collaboration).  No.  What I want to hear is, "There is a fire on the second floor, will everyone immediately walk to the fire exit [pointing to it] and congregate outside by the dairy!" In a workplace there are many times when direct, clear and targeted communication is approporiate:
  • The CEO has a message about the latest press announcement
  • A new client has been brought onboard
  • The staff canteen has a Friday special
The qualities of clear communication are:
  • Available
  • Timely
  • Relevant
We have delved deeper into these three items ...Consultation
Google "define consultation" supplies us with:
a conference between two or more people to consider a particular question; "frequent consultations with his lawyer"; "a consultation of several medical specialists"
The most immediate difference between communication and consultation is that there is more than one active party working in unison to a common goal.  There is, however, nothing equitable about the parties and with all consultations there will be two general groupings - the leader/consultant/'owner' and everyone else.  A great example from the the web definition clearly highlights this inequality; the 'consultation with the lawyer'.  Consultation is also the traditional means by which the NZ Government engages interested parties in policy making (check out what they want you to have your say upon).  In both cases the arbiter of the final outcome 'owns' the consultation, and whilst all of the interested parties can be active in the process, they have no right to determine the consultation outcome. In effect the 'owner' asks, "What do you think of Policy X"?  Everyone being consulted provides their view.  "Policy X is flawed."  "Policy X should not been implemented."  "If Policy X is enacted we're all leaving."  The "owner" can then take all that input and still implement 'Policy X'.  They have truly consulted, but it is still their final decision on future actions. Do not assume that we are saying consultation is bad, because it certainly has its place in the office (a classic being 'organisational restructures').  However, what we find is that it is either misleadingly labelled 'collaboration' or has been misunderstood by the consulting parties that they are being 'collaborated with' and are equal in the process.Collaboration
And finally we have collaboration, which I define as:
All parties work together and building consensus to reach a decision or create a product, the result of which benefits all parties
Base collaboration comprises 3 pillars: 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. We have already written extensively on the '3 Pillars Of Collaboration' and urge you to read more...

The three C's working together

What we're endeavouring to get across (let us know if we need to explain more) is that communication, consultation and collaboration are valid but distinct behaviours and knowing when to use which in different circumstances will serve you well. In any particular business activity you will likely use a combination of all three; take, for example, the common business process of restructuring the organisation which may involve the following:
  1. Communication from the prime mover to the stakeholders
  2. Collaboration around future state
  3. Communication of intention
  4. Consultation of intended changes and impacts
  5. Communication of final structure
  6. Collaboration on process re-engineering
This is intended to be an example to show how all 3 C's can be employed within one business process.  Communication, consultation and collaboration are not business processes within themselves, but behaviours to be employed by organisations as and when required.

More C's

Note: we have chosen to use these particular 3 C's for this post as they are in common use in organisations, often misunderstood and frequently interchangeable without understanding the consequences.  At WaveAdept we often refer to a slightly different set of "C's" which, in order of inclusiveness and active participation, determine 'how' a collaboration tool sits amongst other tools - of course the lines between them are blurred:
  1. Collaboration
  2. Consultation
  3. Cooperation
  4. Coordination

Comments

  1. Good things do come in threes :)

    I think about the three Cs as being:
    * connecting (to networks of people and resources)
    * communicating (visually, using stories, asynchronously, to your networks)
    * collaborating (working together to learn, work, solve problems and discover new ideas)

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment