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What Is Collaboration? Not Communication

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

You can easily confuse communication with collaboration.

You might be talking to your team often, sharing lots of information, giving lots of opinions, coworking on Google Docs, and not collaborating well at all.

This is because communication and collaboration are two very different roles.

You collaborate to achieve a goal faster, cheaper, or better than you can alone. This is achieved by dividing up tasks (to perform them concurrently), soliciting better information than you have access to (from those with the best information), and/or ensuring everyone can specialise in what they do best.

Yet collaboration entails costs. That cost is the time spent communicating and coordinating.

When 5 people are sitting around a room collaborating, these costs rise fast.

If you have 5 people in a meeting for 1 hour, you need to achieve your goal 5 hours quicker or around $500 (assume $100 p/h per person) better than you would alone. If this becomes a weekly meeting for 3 months, you need to achieve the objective at least 60 hours quicker than you can alone.

Improving collaboration is essentially the game of maximising the benefits (quicker, cheaper, better) while minimizing the cost (time spent communicating and coordinating).

Yet most groups focus on maximising the communication (the cost) while minimizing the benefits (dividing tasks, specialising, soliciting useful knowledge). Most groups focus on ensuring everyone is involved in as many different tasks as possible. That’s the exact opposite approach to getting great collaboration.

If you want to improve collaboration, you need a system for dividing up tasks quickly, figuring out how to get the right specialist in at the right moment, and providing the right people with the right information when and how they need it.

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