What Does ‘Collaboration’ Really Mean?

‘Collaboration’ is almost becoming one of those over-used marketing terms. These days it seems like every tool out there claims to solve enterprise collaboration challenges one way or another.  Which begs the question, if it’s just a matter of picking the right tool how come we’re not all working in a nirvana of collaborative harmony?

For the sake of full disclosure, yes I’m in marketing and yes, one of the benefits of using LeanKit is improved collaboration – which is why this has been playing on my mind. Before I glibly toss the term into one more piece of marketing collateral, I want to take the time to reflect on what ‘collaboration’ actually means, and how LeanKit actually helps.

To find some answers, I went back to the dictionary definition. Collaboration means ‘to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something’.  That sounds disarmingly simple.  But then when you strip back what business is all about, it fundamentally comes down to coordinating the efforts of the company’s employees to provide goods and services.

So, yes business is all about collaboration. But it’s not just one of those warm, fuzzy concepts that’s good for team morale. Poor collaboration can end up wasting time and money.  When teams and departments become siloed, it generally takes more time and resources to complete the work, and often takes longer to realize problems, errors and missed opportunities. Done well, the benefits of collaboration can be far reaching – better sharing of information and capacity to solve complex problems which ultimately leads to new innovations.

Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do. And yet at times it’s nearly impossible to make it work. After all, we’re dealing with human interactions which are never straightforward. Misunderstandings, lack of communication, different priorities… it doesn’t take much for everyone to veer off course. And don’t forget to throw in the added challenges of long-distance collaboration for remote teams and employees.

Effective collaboration undoubtedly contributes to business success. But does a tool really exist that provides the silver bullet in making it happen? 

Honestly, I think that investing in collaboration technologies is unlikely to be effective without simultaneously cultivating collaborative behavior.  But I do think that the right tool can go a long way to help. Here’s what I’ve learned since using LeanKit. Collaboration isn’t a prescriptive process that can be ‘applied’ or ‘implemented’. You can’t take the human element out of collaboration – and you shouldn’t try to. Each team and organization is unique in its culture, processes, and people. For people to collaborate well, everyone needs to feel informed, engaged, and accountable. So any tool you choose should be an enabler.

And that’s what LeanKit does in a simple, unobtrusive way. It lets you define how you want to work and map out your processes. Get the entire team involved and you’ll be amazed at the level of engagement that comes from empowering your team to figure out the way they work. Once you start visually managing all of your work on a board, that’s when you’ll see the real benefits. The conversations that are triggered once everyone on the team – and anyone else you want to share your board with – are priceless. The change feels incremental – the effects; tectonic. Give everyone an accurate, up-to-date picture of what’s going on, and any bottlenecks and problems become self-apparent. And guess what? People start to talk, ask questions, problem solve and yes, collaborate!

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