When two or more people collaborate, they put their efforts together to achieve a goal that they hold in common. Their work can be carried out in different intensities of “togetherness.”
Our awareness of the various types or levels of collaboration is very helpful. We can gauge our involvement in a project. Using the degree of involvement, we can then measure how we see the project goals in relation to our activities. Or we can estimate how much effort will be needed. There are lots of uses for this central idea.
Collaboration can be seen as one point on a helping continuum. There are 5 main points on this line, depending on the degree to which goals are shared.
- Networking starts the continuum, perhaps with an exchange of information.
- Then there’s coordination, where there’s an informal sharing of information and activities for a common goal.
- Cooperation is how a deeper integration of efforts and activities for a shared purpose takes place.
- True collaboration is the fullest sharing of all project elements—from aims and activities to risks and rewards. It results in new learning or insight for contributors and text product alike. It is especially suited for projects that require creativity and depth, new ideas, and innovative approaches.
- Convergence is a mature collaboration. The process set up through collaboration has become routine and all elements are seamlessly integrated.
Throughout cooperation, coordination and collaboration processes, people will define their participation in terms of what they understand to be the desired goal or purpose and the effort they must make to reach it. In their different ways, contributors are gauging, accepting, and agreeing to an understanding of project elements, such as:
- Goals, purpose and expected results
- Roles, responsibilities, and accountability
- Tasks, tools, and communications channels
- Possible challenges and compromises
- Risks and rewards
Success will be measured in how expectations in these are met. Thus, a shared understanding of success is always a key element.
An example of writing coordination activity
Coordination in a writing project might look as follows: A writer agrees to help another writer in the organization submit a document on time, realizing that doing so enhances their unit’s goal in relation to meeting deadlines. They divide up the work to increase the chance of meeting the goal. Each writer completes part of the work and they put their final text together. Since getting the text written on time is the measure of success in this case, the level of collaboration, though minimal and not very complex, is appropriate. One colleague engages her sense of duty based on perceived rewards for contributing, and is perhaps feeling generous in the moment. The other is relieved of a burden, though he might have to return the favour later.
It’s usually more complex
The stakes for a writing project are rarely defined simply as a deadline. There are many factors that enhance the ability of a piece of writing to meet its objectives. Some are related to quality, such as accuracy, cohesiveness, comprehensiveness, and the logical sequence of ideas. Others, such as readability and persuasiveness, are related to requirements that define a project’s success.
People who work on writing projects will want to define the elements they must agree on and share so they can achieve their project aims. Success in collaborative writing activities hinges on so many elements, in fact, that support is needed for maintaining the understanding that contributors have of what they are agreeing to, accepting, and achieving.
The participants need to keep an eye on how much integration of elements is required because that defines the level of collaboration. More is at stake as the level of collaboration increases. Contributors in writing teams usually buy in to the collaborative process because of their job or responsibilities, although it can also be out of trust in the importance of the goals on their part—either way, they are taking a brave step.
Much is often accepted on faith, making actual collaboration (at the fourth level in the diagram) an act of courage and trust. A good process—well facilitated by project participants and leaders, in a process supported by the organization—helps to ensure that the project and those involved benefit.
The levels diagram is my own; it was inspired by many books and reports, including:
Berkun, Scott, The Art of Project Management. 2005, O’Reilly Media Inc., Sebastopol, CA.
Himmelman, Arthur T. Collaboration for a change: Definitions, Decision-making Models, Roles, and Collaboration Process Guide. Published online.
Lay, Mary M. and William M. Karis, eds., Collaborative Writing in Industry: Investigations in Theory and Practice. 1991, Baywood Publishing Co., Amityville, NY.
Sanker, Dan, Collaborate: The Art of We. 2012, Kindle edition, published by Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA
Shrage, Michael, Shared Minds: The New Technologies of Collaboration, 1990, Random House, New York, NY
Zorich, Diane M., Gunter Waibel, Ricky Erway, Beyond the Silos of the LAMs: Collaboration among Libraries Archives and Museums, published by OCLC Research, available online, pp 10—12.