Does Collaboration Work?

June 17, 2014 8 Comments

I like to describe the Interaction Institute for Social Change as a collaboration shop.  I like to describe my work as helping people work better together.   Certainly any article tilted “The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results” is bound to get my attention.

I find this to be a powerful piece, and it confirms intuitions and observations from my ten years of doing this work.  It is too often that we collaborate for collaboration’s sake.  And it is too often that we fall into the tyranny of a consensus that yields subpar results.


Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

When I think about my own creative work, and about the partnerships and collaborations that tend to yield the most, these follow a pattern that is more like the one outlined by Ron Friedman in this piece.

·      Find teammates who do something you can’t

·      Differentiate between roles

·      Insist on homework 

Most of the heavy creative lifting happens when we’re by ourselves, working on our own.  Better to collaborate after the idea is far enough along that one is actually ready for suggestions. This has certainly been my experience.

Really looking forward to what others think, would love some robust dialogue on this all important topic.


  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Great question. I agree with the idea of finding teammates with different skills and perspectives, being clear about roles, and doing homework. AND, I suspect the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of group processes may have something to do with thinking styles as well.

    As as a “think out loud” person (extroverted thinker), I almost always do my best, most creative thinking with other people–out loud, in dialogue, messy, and with the full expectation that the first thing I say won’t be the last thing I think.

    My guess is that for “process in your head” people (introverted thinkers), working alone at first makes more sense. Introverted thinkers need time to process on their own and then bring forth ideas that are somewhat “cooked.”

    I don’t see the need to abandon beginning creative work together, more a need to make sure the process is designed in a way that works for both the introverted and extroverted thinkers in the group.

    • GibranX says:

      As a hyper-extrovert, I too tend to do good thinking in a group. There seems to be a backlash against meetings, and I wonder what people “like us” can do to make meetings better for people “like them.” Or, are there two different kinds of meetings, where one kind of meeting can be skipped by those who prefer to think alone? And then both groups converge? Just thinking aloud here (-;

      • Curtis Ogden says:

        I am nodding as I read your response, Gibran. I think throwing out meetings is the wrong move. I think changing the way we meet and do work is the right one. Creating different kinds of spaces to think, talk, work, etc. Have done a bunch of this with the CPN group that I hope to share more about in an upcoming blog post.

  • Charles Jones says:

    While I have seen some very good things come from collaborative efforts, it too often feels to me that collaboration becomes a blanket to insulate the individual (or group) from accountability…

    • GibranX says:

      Charlie, this too is my concern. It can keep people from accountability on “stepping up” to do something, but also make it easier for people to avoid taking risks at the level of ideas and new thinking. I don’t think the problem is fundamentally about collaboration, but about how we collaborate… and about the idea that we all have to be in the same room at the same time in order to do something together.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    The TED Radio Hour spent time on collaboration recently, borrowing from several TED talks, including Jason Fried’s

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