The taxonomy of collaboration
In her recent TAA webinar, “Make ‘Collaboration’ More Than a Buzzword”, Janet Salmons, author of Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn, shared six elements to the taxonomy of collaboration: reflection, dialogue, constructive review, parallel collaboration, sequential collaboration, and synergistic collaboration.
Starting from a definition that “collaboration is an interactive process that engages two or more individual or groups who work together to achieve outcomes they could not accomplish independently”, traversing the taxonomy as described requires that the collaboration among individuals increase in level of trust as well. Referencing Handy, Salmons said, “In collaborative efforts, trust is ‘the confidence that a person is competent to reach a goal and is committed to reaching it.’”
Taxonomy Element #1: Reflection
At the lower level on this trust continuum is reflection. Reflection entails individuals aligning their own knowledge, attitudes, and skills with group efforts. As a result, individuals then make sense of, and prepare for, their roles in collaborative efforts.
Taxonomy Element #2: Dialogue
As trust increases, the second element in the taxonomy of collaboration can emerge: dialogue. Dialogue is a critical component of collaboration. Through dialogue, participants can: agree on communication expectations, processes, and tools; exchange ideas to find shared purpose and coherence in the plans and/or tactics needed to coordinate their efforts; and build working relationships and understanding of other participants’ skills and perspectives in relationship to the task. Dialogue can be facilitated through a variety of tools and platforms depending on the needs of the group as illustrated below.
Taxonomy Element #3: Constructive Review
At the next level of the taxonomy is constructive review. Essential to collaborative efforts, constructive review requires participants to exchange work for constructive mutual critique and to incorporate others’ comments. Conducted within agreed-upon parameters, participants evaluate which elements of their partners’ work should be included in the deliverables, and what additions or revisions will be needed.
As trust continues to increase among the members of the group, three forms of collaboration can emerge: parallel collaboration, sequential collaboration, and synergistic collaboration. In these higher trust areas of the collaboration taxonomy, work is developed with a shared vision rather than a focus on individual contributions and evaluation.
Taxonomy Element #4: Parallel Collaboration
In parallel collaboration efforts, participants each complete a component of the project as individuals or in sub-teams. Those components are combined into a collective final product.
Taxonomy Element #5: Sequential Collaboration
In sequential collaboration efforts, participants build on each other’s contributions through a series of progressive steps. The elements are combined into a collective final product.
Taxonomy Element #6: Synergistic Collaboration
At the final level of the taxonomy, synergistic collaboration, the participants think together to collaborate fully in the creation of a product that meshes each one’s contributions into a whole.
As the taxonomy depends on trust among the collaborators, teams should not expect to be successful in the higher levels of collaboration without traversing the foundational elements on the trust continuum. However, as teams continue to work together, collaboration can certainly become more than a buzzword.