We were ‘talking shop’ over breakfast recently, as business people are wont to do. After several mentions of ‘collaborative this’ or ‘collaborative that,” one of the group remarked that he wasn’t interested in collaborating with his professional advisers – what he wanted (and was paying for) was a consulting expert. It was a casual comment by a friend and fellow business owner, but it made me pause.
Though current business vernacular may change, mixed meanings for communication, consultation and collaboration seem to be a constant. Was it time for me to reconsider “collaborative partnership” as a recognized ideal to strive for in a client-agency relationship? Back to my friend for more details.
“Why don’t you want to collaborate,” I asked. He didn’t have time to collaborate. He didn’t know enough about the subject area to collaborate. What he wanted was a knowledgeable, trusted advisor who would clearly communicate expert counsel, and then leave him to make the decision. But in a collaborative partnership, he continued, both parties are equally involved in, and accountable for, the decision.
Hmm, perhaps my friend is an anomaly with his view of collaboration as not necessarily positive. A quick check found this not to be the case. The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a survey of 453 business executives worldwide and the resulting briefing paper, The role of trust in business collaboration, reports decidedly mixed views and experiences. The paper applies trust and technology tools as filters to explore the differences between collaboration, coordination and cooperation.
In another survey, albeit more informal, Shawn Callahan of Anecdote explored the difference between cooperation and coordination. Among the insights, a recurring theme was the higher value of collaboration and a sense of shared purpose among those in the relationship.
Then I discovered an excellent, brief video from the Collaboration Lab on the difference between communication, consultation and collaboration. In this case, accountability is the key difference. I noted that Phil Culhane’s definition of collaboration closely parallels my friend’s.
Collaborative decision or process?
Now I’m wondering — Is the purpose of collaboration the key differentiator? The Collaboration Lab’s purpose is to bring groups of people to an effective decision on a specific issue. The decision is the product of the collaboration, if you will.
In business situations such as client-agency relationships, the business owner or management leader must be the ultimate decision-maker. Does that negate the possibility of a collaborative process?
I think not.
Communication, consultation, or collaboration?
The shared purpose of a client-agency collaborative process is to develop effective plans, products, campaigns or creative materials to advance your mission. Whether for short-term or long-term purposes, I believe the outcomes will be better if the process is based on trust and collaboration.
On the other hand, the take-away from my friend’s comments on collaboration is not that it is no longer desirable, but that the meaning of the term needs to be clarified and mutually understood in every situation.
What do you think? How do you define communication, consultation, and collaboration?
The role of trust in business collaboration, Economist Intelligence Unit
The difference between cooperation and coordination, Anecdote blog
Collaboration Video, Collaboration Lab