Photo via the Tape Artists on Flickr

What are the essential ingredients of successful collaboration?

I was talking to a friend/colleague in another school yesterday about the challenges of collaboration. “I’m worried that the Moodle site we’ve set up for faculty will just become a depository for documents,” he said.

I had to say that I thought it was a valid concern. He was asking me for input and advice, and in that moment I confessed that I didn’t really have any.

Those of us who have witnessed or participated in the unbelievable opportunities for collaboration that our new connectivity has enabled are sometimes at a loss when it comes to conveying our enthusiasm. We may sound like we’re excited about the technology, when what really gets our hearts pumping is what we can DO with it.

Earlier this week, I watched in amazement as elementary school principal George Couros “thought out loud” about elementary classroom blogs in a Google Doc and then invited his personal learning network to chime in. You could literally watch the page fill up with great ideas; I wished I’d set up a screen capture for future show-and-tell. George is also enabling collaboration at the macro level, setting up his teachers with blogs and aggregating the blogs’ RSS feeds into one big happy bundle.

So here’s what I want to share with my friend after further reflection (have I mentioned that I’m a slow thinker?):

You’re right. Creating a Moodle site (or a hashtag, or a wiki, or a Google Doc, or…) probably won’t cause collaboration to spontaneously flourish. Collaboration is like diversity… one of those goals that is worth striving for, but that requires more hard work than many people realize or are willing to acknowledge.

I think that establishing technological supports can be a critical component of lowering the barriers to collaboration. But the bigger barriers are the human ones. Think about the times in your life when you were part of a successful collaboration. What are the conditions that allowed that to flourish? Here’s what I came up with.

  • A shared goal (you need something to collborate ON!)
  • A willingness to share (information hoarders are not comfortable collaborators)
  • A conviction that both you and others have something worth contributing
  • A sense of trust amongst the participants
  • An environment in which collaboration is valued and appreciated

What am I missing?

(Shout outs to @gcouros &
@joshcook for their inspiration.)

Posted on September 15, 2010, in big picture. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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