In an earlier post, I had visited collaboration techniques and some concepts there that I had encountered and thought about. One conclusion was that:

It goes back to us, as individuals, and how we collaborate as subjects, alone or in teams or in networks. If the capability to collaborate in structured ways is learnt and becomes “native” so will adoption on a more widespread basis.

How can collaboration or the capability thereof, go native? By imparting a purpose to collaboration, I am focusing on collaboration that needs to be explicit, rather than implicit (or as a function of collectives). How can it become an essential part of our daily workflows?

One obvious component is technology of some sort – phone, Internet-based etc. and the knowledge & skills on the technology that you need to collaborate.

The other obvious component is your network and the level of access that you have to people with whom you can collaborate.

The third component is the collaboration skill itself, which is composed of not only soft skills (including social etiquette and cultural sensitivity), but also language skills (how effectively can you communicate) and knowledge of various structured and unstructured collaboration techniques (for example, collaboration could also include negotiation or mediation apart from the regular terms in which we view collaboration).

The fourth component is the content/domain of collaboration. Techniques like the Johari window  are pretty useful here to analyze the domain with respect to the collaboration participants and their level of knowledge.

An important fifth dimension, apart from technology, networks and collaboration skill, also emerges – context. It is really important to understand state of the world before, during and after the collaboration process ends. If we are able to capture that, then we are able to do two things – one, document the process for others to learn from and two, measure the outcomes and build performance indicators.

At this time (or at any time in the past), these have always existed in some form or the other. Online/digital technology scores because of its capability to bring diverse geographically distributed people together on a collaborative platform, but leaves much to be desired in terms of facilitating the use of formal techniques for collaboration.

In our experience, we have more or less learnt to collaborate by experience (I would say this would be a fairly acceptable generalization) and by making mistakes. But also a lot by how we see our peers and seniors collaborate. We take these complex skills involving social interaction, emotional control,  tact, courtesy and so many other dimensions to produce the results we so desire. There are also a large number of successful models that people have developed over the years. In fact Stephen Covey’s Sixth Habit is Principles of Creative Cooperation.

It is so difficult for formal models to be built in a highly subjective and individualized area. I quote Yes Minister where Hacker reveals the three varieties of Civil Service silence – Discreet, Stubborn and Courageous silence.

… He also warned me of the ‘Three Varieties of Civil Service Silence’, which would be Humphrey’s last resort if completely cornered: 1 The silence when they do not want to tell you the facts: Discreet Silence. 2 The silence when they do not intend to take any action: Stubborn Silence. 3 The silence when you catch them out and they haven’t a leg to stand on. They imply that they could vindicate themselves completely if only they were free to tell all, but they are too honourable to do so: Courageous Silence. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 93-4)

How does one depict or infer Courageous Silence online on a Chat or Social network discussion?

However, there is value that exists if we do use/adapt somebody’s well thought out or experimented mechanism or recipe for collaboration. After all that is where a lot of people make money in training because they can interpret and adapt to the individual’s context when suggesting a recipe or building capability on a specific technique.

To really be useful and pervasive, we must find ways to enable these dimensions on an Internet scale, in our applications. We must make these tools & techniques and the  knowledge thereof easy to grasp and implement. And this process will continue to evolve and benefit from multiple related developments in technology and technique.

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