There was an article in the newspaper that described the changing layouts of offices to allow for greater collaboration amongst employees. I cringed, as I think “collaboration” has become one of the most overused buzzwords today, and few people really stop to consider what it means.

I always refer back to a document that I have been referencing for over two decades that describes the differences between cooperation, coordination and collaboration. The Amherst Wilder Foundation seeks to fund projects that are true collaborations, and to help potential grant recipients they compiled this brilliant chart that outlines how essential elements are different under the three conditions. In one page, the Foundation describes the variation in: vision and relationships; structure, responsibilities and communication; authority and accountability; and resources and rewards as well as how they manifest themselves in the three environments. 

I think that if you read it, you will find that most things people currently describe as collaborations are truly cooperation or coordination. Working together is very different than creating a shared mission, pooling resources or dispersing control. Yet striving for genuine collaboration is needed more than ever, as it creates the synergy that is the only thing likely to create solutions for some of the greatest problems we face as a society.

The next time you want to pat yourself on the back for collaborating with a colleague, reference this guide before you do. The bar for true collaboration is high, but the rewards for reaching it warrant much more than new collaborative furniture.

beth triplett

Collaboration marks the office of the future, by Steve Brown in the Dallas Morning News, reprinted the Telegraph Herald, July 3, 2016, p. 7D.

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