The Anatomy of Collaboration

Collaboration_Ven_DiagramAs an Organizational Development (OD) Practitioner collaboration is a large component of my work. An individual must, at some level engage, in collaboration when working with, for, or around an organization. Trist, Bamforth, Rice and colleagues at the Tavastock institute describe business as a sociotechincal system. In other words organizations are a system made up of people and technologies in order to work jointly toward a given goal. Their research shows most organizations focus on technical fixes while minimizing the human factor. (Gallos, 2006) Organizational Development is capable of balancing technologies and people for the betterment of people and organizations.

Technology is minimized in this discussion while human factors are favored.   Yet in our modern world people collaborate more and more via technology. Diane Branson, principal at Virtual People and Organization Development Solutions, suggests the critical success factors for virtual teams are very similar to teams in general.  Nevertheless, because of the high reliance on technology as a communication link there is a higher requirement for shared, dispersed leadership, and self-directed freedom. This requires a shared vision not just a functional vision. (Diane Branson, personal communication, November 16, 2010). The critical human factors discussed here can be implemented no matter the technology.  This is not to say forms of technology will not advance or depreciate these factors.  There must be consideration of the effect technology has on people and vice-versa.

Collaboration as discussed in this paper is in service to resource development at the Friends of the Cedar River Watershed (FCRW), a nonprofit organization. However, the dynamics can be scaled up or down depending upon the size of system or the complexity of partnerships.

Collaboration is my main focus of this discussion. Sustainability, systems thinking, diversity, social justice, leadership, and reflective practice will also be discussed in relation of collaboration.  As the reader you are more then welcome to jump around but I suggest you start with one section then follow onto the next section. Each section will build on the next.

CollaborationWhole_Ven_DiagramMy goal is to show how effective collaboration holds space for sustainability, systems thinking, diversity, social justice, leadership, and reflective practice.  The amount of each of these intentions we can embrace in organizations the greater the environment for collaboration to foster the intentions of the whole and individuals.  Peter Block (2008, loc. 250-53) expresses this best in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging

Aliveness grows out of a sense of wholeness. Wholeness is made up of a collection of separate centers, where each center has “a certain life or intensity…. We can see that the life of any one center depends on the life of other centers. This life or intensity is not inherent in the center by itself, but is a function of the whole configuration in which the center occurs.

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