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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is collaboration? What is the definition of collaboration?
    The parts of the word itself say a lot about what the word means. “Co-labor” literally means “together work” and the suffix “-ion” points to an act or a process. Collaboration, then, is the process of working together. More precisely, here is the definition I offer in my book, Collabor(h)ate: Collaboration is the process of two or more known individuals working together intentionally to advance a specific shared goal. This definition applies to a wide range of contexts and circumstances. For example, it works for collaborations that are wholly voluntary, as well as those that are “voluntold”. It applies to collaborations that exist for a short period of time as well as those that persist for years on end. The definition works just as well for situations where the partners have equal access to resources, status, and power as when those things are wildly asymmetrical. It works just as well for collaborations that are informal as those that are highly structured by contracts and other written agreements. It works just as well for synchronous and asynchronous collaborations. And, it works just as well for in-person, remote, and hybrid collaborations.
  • What’s the difference between collaboration and cooperation? What is the Collaboration Continuum?
    Arthur Himmelman’s Collaboration Continuum states that collaboration lies on a continuum of different forms of working together that ranges from networking (exchanging information for mutual benefit), to coordinating (altering activities to achieve a common purpose), to cooperating (sharing resources), to collaborating (learning from each other to enhance each other’s capacity). I have summarized Himmelman’s continuum, and articulated the capacities and supports needed to enact each station well, in a handout available in the Other Links section of
  • Why is collaboration important? Why is collaboration important in business and in the workplace?
    Collaboration is important because it enables solutions to complex problems by bringing together disparate skill sets, expertises, perspectives, and resources. While working alone is limiting in that we are constrained to use only those tools and capacities that we either already have or could somehow acquire, working with collaborators magnifies those resources. Collaboration drives innovation. Cross-functional, skiprank, interorganizational, intergenerational, and cross-cultural collaborations offer especially rich opportunities for transformative collaborations precisely because they bring together broad perspectives and talents, afford more novelty and thus self-expansion, and bubble up more compelling solutions. Cool stuff happens when diverse people from diverse backgrounds with diverse talents advance diverse interests within the context of collaboration. Collaboration is important because it makes the impossible possible. It is essential to address the big challenges we face in business, civics, education, and beyond. Collaboration is a competitive advantage. Or, rather, good collaboration is a competitive advantage.
  • What is a collaborative relationship?
    We all are in many different relationships. We may be in relationships with friends, kids, parents, partners, mentors, teachers, and so on. In the workplace, we have some sort of relationship with our co-workers, our boss, our directors, our clients, and – yes – our collaborators. Our relationships with collaborators are “collaborative relationships.” The term can be a bit confusing because, well, let’s face it: some collaborative relationships are less collaborative than others. In fact, some are downright horrible; this is a state I call collaborhate. Others are freakin’ amazing, a state I like to call collaborGREAT.
  • How can I build better relationships with my collaborators? What is the Mashek Matrix and how can it help improve my collaborations?
    Collaborative relationships vary in terms of both relationship quality and interdependence. Collaborative relationship quality is your subjective sense of how good or bad your relationship is with a particular collaborator. Interdependence is the extent to which your and your collaborator’s outcomes are tied to each other’s behaviors. (To download a much more fun version of The Mashek Matrix, go here.) To build amazing relationships with your collaborators, you want to maximize both relationship quality and interdependence. In my book, Collabor(h)ate, I provide a range of options for adjusting both features of your relationship, introduce the Mashek Matrix as a flexible framework for thinking about how to improve your collaborative relationships, and describe a DIY workshop you can take yourself through to identify which interventions make the most sense for your situation and the order in which you will want to do them.
  • What is a culture of collaboration? What do you mean when you talk about collaborative culture?
    The American Psychological Association defines culture as “the characteristic attitudes and behaviors of a particular group,” noting that these features inform everyday behaviors and practices. The stronger the culture of collaboration at a particular company or on a particular team, the more strongly that culture promotes and enables collaborative action. A strong collaborative culture exists when, for example: Collaboration is a clear and explicit value Practices and policies align with that value People who are especially skilled at contributing time and talent to shared undertakings are recognized and rewarded for those efforts Work is structured, measured, and rewarded to preference group successes over individual successes When culture of collaboration is strong, teams are able to generate creative solutions that leverage diverse perspectives and optimize across competing demands. And, they do it on time and on budget, serving clients' needs along the way. This culture is a wonderful asset, demonstrating that great collaboration is a competitive advantage. A weak collaborative culture contributes to stiff and persistent interpersonal headwinds, making it difficult to move complex projects, programs, and services through complex organizations. A weak culture of collaboration undermines everything from timelines to bottom lines to well-being. This culture is a hefty liability.
  • Why is collaboration so hard?
    Collaboration is hard because, well, relationships are hard. And, on top of that, very few of us ever receive any formal training in how to collaborate well. In fact, data from my Workplace Collaboration Survey show that only ¼ of workers in the United States have received more than a few hours of collaboration training – nearly a third of respondents report having received NO training! Why does collaboration fail and how can we fix it? Why doesn’t collaboration work? Here are some of the common ways collaborations go sideways: Dropped balls Uneven workload “My way or the highway” “I’ll just do it myself” No capacity to give Under preparation Inconsistent contributions Stealing credit and placing blame Off-loading risk Hoarding and withholding Tyranny of perfectionism Dodging hard conversations Mushy roles Tool overload Hiding behaviors Undermining Collaboration is critically important. It’s hard to do well, and yet there seems to be a general belief that this is a skill one can just pick up by osmosis via on-the-job training amid a bunch of other professionals who likewise haven’t had any formal training. Frankly, it’s not at all surprising that collaboration fails in many different ways.
  • What’s at stake when collaboration goes wrong?
    Collaboration can be your greatest asset or your heftiest liability. When collaboration goes well, people are happy, innovations bubble up, timelines hum along, and bottom lines grow. Good collaboration brings with it incredible benefits. However, when done poorly, collaboration is a huge sink of time, money, and human potential. You suffer (e.g., stress, frustration, low job satisfaction, reputation hit). Teams suffer (e.g., distrust, low productivity, low quality work). Projects suffer (e.g., lackluster solutions, unimpressed clients and customers). And, organizations suffer (e.g., interpersonal headwinds decrease efficiency and effectiveness, low morale on the team means high turnover). In sum, poor collaboration is an incredible liability.
  • If it’s so hard to collaborate well, why should I bother even trying?
    Here are just a few of the reasons others have shared about why they want to learn how to collaborate better. Do any of these reasons resonate with you? advance personal or professional goals our ability to change the world will be unlocked in partnership with others acquire new abilities, resources, and perspectives expand my professional network open up professional opportunities enhance my reputation have more fun and engaged at work feel visible and valued.
  • What collaboration tools do you recommend? What collaboration tool is best? What collaboration processes do you think are best?
    There are loads of great collaboration tools and processes out there and every team needs to select tools that will be relevant and adaptable within their particular context. While I don’t endorse any particular collaboration tool, I do offer a caution about all collaboration tools and all collaboration processes. It’s this: While collaboration tools and processes are essential ingredients to the successful completion of any complex collaboration, they will not be able to carry the project in the absence of healthy collaborative relationships. Relationships are the foundation of effective collaboration. (That’s why I focused my entire book, Collaborhate, on how to build great relationships among collaborators.) Trying to marshall complex collaborative projects in the absence of strong relationships is like cooking without salt – you’re missing an essential ingredient. And trying to marshall complex collaborative projects in the presence of toxic and strained relationships is like cooking with arsenic. Invest in the success of your collaborations by investing in the health of your collaborative relationships. No matter the type, quality, or volume of tools and processes, the relationships among the people form the core of any collaboration.
  • Is it possible to teach people how to collaborate? Can people learn how to be better collaborators?
    Absolutely! Just as very few of us ever receive any formal training in how to be an incredible spouse, or parent, or friend, as highlighted above, few of us ever receive any coaching in how to be incredible collaborators. Despite the complexity of social relationships, pretty much across the board we’re rather expected to either know how to do them or to figure them out as we go along. Sink or swim. That’s hardly a strategy to rely on when everything from our emotional well-being, to our joy at work, to our organization’s bottom line is at stake. We can do better. Thank goodness, this relationship stuff is learnable. Like all relationships, collaboration takes work. And, like all relationships, there are better and worse things to do if you want that relationship to thrive. If you’re curious where to start, grab a copy of Collaborhate and browse the free resources available at (Hint: It's not rocket science; it's relationship science.)
  • What are the most important collaboration skills and how can I learn them? How can I become an amazing collaborator?
    Here’s a fun fact for you: The qualities and skills that make someone a wonderful friend, spouse, or parent are also valuable in becoming an amazing collaborator. Things like saying what you mean, meaning what you say, expressing your needs and preferences, being responsive to the needs of others, and contributing to the communal good are all examples of ways to be an amazing collaborator. To learn what these skills and qualities look like, grab a copy of Collaborhate; it is loaded with concrete strategies for becoming truly collaborGREAT.
  • Why is your book called Collabor(h)ate?
    Culturally, there are a whole lot of messages flying around about how collaboration is some combination of bees’ knees, sliced bread, the end-all-be-all, and the right solution for every challenge. Yet, collaboration can really, really suck. I want us to talk about that struggle, and so I tucked the H in the book’s title to invite all of us to give voice to the H in Collabor(h)ate. Silencing it means missing out on critical opportunities to learn what we and our colleagues are struggling with, thus obscuring pathways to making this whole working together thing way more positive for way more people. Understanding the interpersonal dynamics at play, and designing our collaborations accordingly, means we can make collaborations more productive, sustainable, enjoyable, and healthy.
  • I don’t like collaborating with others; does that mean I’m a horrible person?
    Nope, it means you’re human. And, it most likely means you’re among the 72% of people who have previously been part of a collaboration that was “absolutely horrendous.” (This finding comes from my Workplace Collaboration Survey.) A whole lot of people out there have mixed feelings about collaboration. They know it is ripe with potential and that it can be incredibly rewarding. And they know it can also be an incredible burden, ripe with headache and heartache. If you likewise have ambivalent feelings about collaboration, welcome to the club.

“I’d like to say that I approach collaboration first and foremost as a researcher, but that’s not true. I approach collaboration first and foremost as a kid from the trailer park who figured out early on the power of relationships to provide for one’s needs.”

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