As you may have noticed from even a casual reading of my blog, I’m fascinated by the subject of collaboration. Not only is it the current big topic in the business world, it’s at least a significant key to the next level of efficiency, productivity – well, you name it. So far, most of what I’ve read on collaboration has to do with how to plan for it, how to build it, how to encourage it, how to reward it – in other words, how to institutionalize it.
But collaboration can occur without actually being planned (that noise you hear is the collective groans of a million consultants.) Shocking, I know, but check out this short entry from the Australian blog Anecdote. Quoted from the transcript of a Margaret Wheatley forum, it recounts the story about the decision and the process of safely landing every single aircraft flying in U.S. airspace during the opening hours of the 911 crisis. Here’s what I think is the heart of this story:
“Later, they realized that the reason they succeeded was the strength of their relationships. They trusted each other as they were communicating across the country. There was a real esprit [dÃ© corps]; they were smart. They could make new policies. They could make up rules that worked in the moment.”
Note that key elements – the things that make collaboration work – are all present: trust, communication, community and intelligence (in the sense of wisdom or experience). And, it wasn’t that there was a lack of planning – it was just that there was no plan for this. But they did it, and did it well.
So the question is, can any group of people be expected to collaborate well when the chips are down? Well, call me crazy, but I think the answer is yes, if the conditions are right. The key to success is building into the group those elements noted above. Naturally it’s harder when the group members are spread apart geographically, but any organization that promotes these (let’s go ahead and call them values, shall we?) will lay the groundwork for successful internal collaboration.
What about other examples when collaboration “just happened”? What were the results? How did you feel? Let’s hear some war stories from readers!