Everyone talks about collaboration and its benefits, but what does it really take to join forces with others, gather ideas and come up with the best way to move forward?

Collaboration is usually talked about as a very positive thing, but is it always a benefit to get more people involved? How do we decide what’s appropriate? How does it really work? If you aren’t asking these questions, maybe you should.

Everyone’s an expert

The danger of collaboration taken beyond logical boundaries is the “everyone is an expert” syndrome, where all voices are considered as equal. While great ideas can and do come from unexpected places, it may not be practical to solicit or welcome input from just anybody. Keep in mind that when you encourage participation, ignoring input can create a politically unpleasant environment.

No one is in charge

Collaboration taken to another extreme can be abdication of responsibility. Lack of great ideas or a deadlock can be the outcome of collaboration without leadership. Have you been on a project where the leader wants everyone to participate but what really needs to happen is for a decision to be made? Not all things should be decided by committee.

Collaboration costs

People talk up the benefits of collaboration but there isn’t nearly as much conversation about the time and effort expended by each individual contributing. How much collaborative effort is beneficial versus distraction?

There must be a point where the benefits decline and the effort could and should have been used in better ways. Lastly, collaboration doesn’t necessarily translate to faster or better results. It can, however, slow down decisions and clutter the idea landscape.

Lowering the cost

To avoid the challenges above, collaboration needs to be considered as a strategic tool to be used in a systematic way. It has to occur naturally but enabled and led in a way that keeps it from being chaos and entropy. Social technology offers a way to lower the cost, but not without a few caveats. Simply creating a Twitter-like environment within your enterprise isn’t going to resolve the “everyone is an expert” or “no one is in charge” challenges. Used effectively, social technology can:

  • Make seeking opinions less disruptive and more opportunistic
  • Pair the problem with the ideas much faster
  • Allow the population to self-select into the best conversations for their passions and knowledge
  • Let the community easily move a great idea to the top of the list

In the end, it isn’t about the new, shiny object. It has to be about the benefit being greater than the cost.