Why We Need a Science of Collaboration
When I assign a report that must be completed as a team, my college writing classes get very still. When I explain the assignment will be graded as a team, I hear barely audible groans and see ever-so-slight grimaces. (These are polite writing students, after all.)
It is much simpler to be an individual contributor than a collaborator. The fun of writing is in the discoveries make as you write. Collaboration seems to negate all that.
So many unknowns in collaboration: will my team care the way I care? How will we divide the work? What if that slacker is on my team? Who will lead this group?
(“Please let it not be me.”)
(“Please, not me.”)
And yet working together—collaborating—is one of the essential skills our business communities (and academic communities and faith communities) desperately need. This story from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (via the ACRP Wire) highlights just how big the stakes might be for future collaborations:
An essential new way to move discoveries forward has emerged in the form of multistakeholder collaborations involving three or more different types of organizations, such as drug companies, government regulators, and patient groups, write Magdalini Papadaki, a research associate, and Gigi Hirsch, a physician-entrepreneur and executive director of the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation.
The authors are calling for a new “science of collaboration” to learn what works and doesn’t work; to improve how leaders can design, manage, and evaluate collaborations; and to help educate and train future leaders with the necessary organizational and managerial skills.
Part of the problem is that we think collaboration will just happen on its own.
It doesn’t. Someone needs to organize the task. That organization can look like top-down authoritarian leadership or it can look like colleague-helping-colleague asides. Both approaches have their place, as well as the infinite variety of other ways to help a team move forward. People who study and practice these things are my heroes.
I can’t help but agree with Papadaki and Hirsch in calling for a new science of collaboration.
And for those of the writing persuasion, I plead for patience with group work.
Because sometimes the lightning bolt of writing also strikes in a conversation.
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