Not All Types of Collaboration Are Equal


In previous blogs I’ve talked about all the sloppy thinking about teamwork. We’ve romanticized and glorified it. We’ve turned teamwork into a generic corporate good, a kind of “motherhood and apple pie.” Dramatic posters of mountain climbers urge us to strive for ever more of it. Or so it seems. This hyping of teamwork isn’t serving anyone. It’s time we got more specific about what we mean by teamwork and collaboration, when it’s useful and when it’s not.

At Mars, Inc I came to understand that there are degrees or levels of collaboration. All of them have a place but they need to be used differently, in ways suited to the circumstances and intended outcomes. Remember the two teams I talked about in the preceding episode? That independent group of sales folks wasn’t bad or wrong for chasing their numbers as individuals. They just didn’t need collaboration to be successful.

One other thing; I wasn’t around the sales team all the time but I’m sure that little acts of collaboration were happening regularly in their offices. Everyday, individual Mars Associates offered help and support to each other. Those mini-collaborations were simpler and less demanding than the kind of collaboration required by say, the interdependent car design team I also talked about in the earlier episode. That’s what I mean by different degrees or levels of collaboration.

Here’s the best thing: When you start to discern between different levels of collaboration, you’ll find you need less collaboration than you thought. In this age of 24/7/365 where we can be collaborated with anytime, anywhere via an app or email we risk a higher rate of burnout than we already see in the corporate world. That’s why it is so liberating to realize that not every job, task or function requires teamwork or even the same degree of collaboration.

What could this mean for us?  For starters, it would lead to fewer meetings and fewer random emails in the middle of the night. Wouldn’t that be great? More importantly, recognizing these degrees of collaboration allows us manage work better, to dedicate more time to the collaboration that contributes to the bottom line and less time to collaboration that doesn’t.

So, how can we clearly differentiate among the varying degrees of collaboration? And how can we apply that knowledge to getting work done collaboratively? I’ll cover that in my next Blog post.