Collaboration: Where to Start

A friend of mine passed along a couple articles from the January-February 2016 Harvard Business Review, and as usual, she was right on with her guess of what I’d find interesting. One of the articles was Collaboration Overload, by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant. I’m afraid poor ol’ collaboration is one of those really important concepts that’s fallen into the buzzword bucket. In many cases, we’ve been told to collaborate, but we haven’t really been taught how to do it effectively. We end up providing a final product and asking for feedback (which of course we don’t really want) so we can check the box to say we worked with another person or team. Ta-da! Collaboration!


What I liked so much about this particular article was the author’s definition and exploration of collaborative resources, which can help us understand the type of collaboration and help we need. They outlined three personal resources we can each contribute to add value when we collaborate:

  • Informational resources are knowledge and skills—expertise that can be recorded and passed on.
  • Social resources involve one’s awareness, access, and position in a network, which can be used to help colleagues better collaborate with one another.
  • Personal resources include one’s own time and energy.

They go on to discuss how informational and social resources aren’t finite – they can be shared without the giver losing those resources. If I share knowledge I have or introduce you to a person I know, I still have that knowledge and I still know that person. But when I give you my time, no one else can have that time (despite how good at multi-tasking I may think I am).

The problem is that we typically default to asking for another’s time when we attempt to collaborate, depleting the most scarce resource by default when we may not have to. The idea of asking myself what type of resources I need from someone seems a great place to start when I think about how I want to collaborate. I may need actual face time for an exploratory conversation. Perhaps I need a piece of historical context. Or I might just need my project presented as a priority to someone else who can help me. But not all of these require me to set a 30 minute meeting in someone’s day.

I’m going to try this lens for a while and see if it helps me clarify what I need from people. My network is my most valuable resource and I never want anyone to feel like I wasted their time, in a meeting or otherwise. How can you make the best use of your resources?

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