During our last class of 2017, a student asked me if I had any advice for getting people at her company to collaborate. My response was, simply, “to collaborate on WHAT?” I wasn’t trying to be witty or flippant. I was asking a question we often miss when dealing with business silos and the lack of collaboration we associate with them. I have read some fantastic articles about silos on LinkedIn so I will spare you my opinion, except to say that eliminating a business silo does not necessarily result in collaboration. Silos sometimes exist out of operational and functional necessity. People / organizations existing in isolation do not always result in lack of collaboration. The opposite, however, IS true: lack of collaboration DOES create silos that isolate people and obstruct operations and functionality. Not just lack of collaboration, but also lack of purpose and clarity on the goal of the collaboration itself.

It is indispensable that collaboration has a goal. To “collaborate” or “co-labor” is to work jointly with others in an endeavor. Not just “work together” but “work together to…” or “work together towards…” or “work together on…” In my many years leading cross-functional and cross-cultural efforts, the two most common collaboration problems I encounter are (1) lack of clarity on the purpose of the collaboration, and (2) unnecessary participation by people who have nothing to contribute. Collaborating is the act of gathering around an objective with your own tools in hand, working on different aspects of the effort, together.

Standing around idly or without apparent purpose is not collaborating… it is loitering 🙂

About the author: JC writes about interpersonal and business relationships and the technology that improves them. His books are available on Amazon and other major retailers.