Collaboration is learning

I’ve recently been reading Building a Collaborative Enterprise in Harvard Business Review. Its an interesting article discussing hard systems (Capability Maturity Model) while emphasising more soft systems issues of common purpose, values, ethics of contribution and so on specifically in knowledge intensive firms as the basis for effective collaborative enterprises.

They compare shared purpose as a basis for “trust and organisational cohesion” against cohesion based on self-interest, tradition or a specific charismatic leader – citing Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. But its the development, maintenance and renewal of such a common purpose that is of particular interest to me, but underdeveloped in the article. Trust and cohesion building at the human scale is about longer processes of sense-making – of testing how each person works together, how processes operate in real life and about what people are attempting to do – the purpose bit. Its the purpose part that is critical, that shared purpose that can only develop through processes of experimentation, by creating a consensus maintaining and evolving that consensus through daily practices. Building the collaborative enterprise is a process of learning and re-learning what that purpose is all about.
As the article states:

Interdependent process management is explicit,
flexible, and interactive. Processes are carefully
worked out and generally written into protocols, but
they are revised continually as the demands of the
work and of clients change. They are shaped more
by people involved in the task than by those at the
top.

Except, I’d suggest that such processes are not really “carefully worked out” but rather are based on ambiguous agreement that is clarified at increasingly granular levels through working and learning.

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