When NASDAQ companies are using an enterprise social network, companies are developing collaborative practices and we question the need of employing collaborative work tools, it seems interesting to stop for a moment and see what do we understand by collaborative work.
When talking about collaborative work, it is important to distinguish two forms of work organization: collaboration and cooperation. As Serge K. Levan mentions on his book Travail collaboratif sur internet : concepts et pratiques des plateaux projet, cooperation and collaboration are related to joint and completed collective activities, which means that it refers to actions involving several people, some of them working together, to reach a goal or an objective.
A galley and its rowers
What does it mean in reality? It is simply a reference to project work. Let’s take the example of a project group formed around a project manager. The image used by S. Levan is that one of the galley1. The project manager is the leader of the rowers and the group members the rowers. The leader is there to set the pace and the rowers … row.
When the rowers understand each other well, it is possible to see cooperative practices, accompanied, however, by a whole arsenal of personal protection systems: implementation of a process, a schedule and formal reporting. The good running of the project is subject to the environmental hazards and the comprehension among the rowers. Everything rests on the shoulders of the leader of the rowers and its ability to develop its leadership.
We can observe also situations where the rowers and their leader are encouraged to collaborate, this last one becomes then « the rower leader ». Rower leader, because he becomes a rower himself. Reflections are collective and also the path leading to the decision. In this situation, we move from a leader who requires a formal reporting to a leader who is assisted by the rowers and row like the others. He is recognized and he is the one who provides the information, when needed, to take the ship to a good port.
In this second case, the team is collaborating, we call it self-coordination because it is done by the group itself. In the first case, in contrast, the members are cooperating. Coordination is accomplished by an external collective hierarchy.
Communication, a key element of collaborative work
Communication is often reduced to transmission of information, usually by mails. This is not enough. Communication requires also to understand and being understood. If group members do not seek to understand each other or fail in understanding each other, will be difficult to develop cooperation. And do not even talk about collaboration.
That is why, self-coordination in a group is acquired through the evolution and change of practices, especially if we add to this the distance. It worths collaboration!
Collaborators of the team or group, try to understand each other, to agree on a shared methodology, on the objective to reach, on the way to proceed, on the tracking of an action plan, on the resources to allocate … This requires the development of personal skills that will help in the collaboration. Known by some as collaborative competence.
Indeed, the set of parameters allowing a project to succeed are in hands of people. We carry the causes of problems to solve, in the same way that we carry the solutions. It is implementing an organization system and the individual skills appropriate to each situation, that a group will increase the possibility to find solutions to its problem.
Towards an agile company
In a simple situation, with a stable environment, where planification is possible, cooperation is an appropriate form of organization.
But if, as is increasingly the case nowadays, situations are dynamic, uncertain, or risky, the collaborative form of organization is our target. That is why collaborative work seems to be the answer to the companies that are developing complex activities and pursuit the flexibility for a continuous adaptation to their environment. Today we talk about agile company2.
English Translation by Paula Andrea Gómez Gutiérrez (web marketing – Advanseez)