conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Why We Need a Science of Collaboration

with 6 comments

Whatcha talkin bout Willis?

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 you 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.”)



Elegant work from Ogilvy, Honduras

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.


Image via Ads of the World

6 Responses

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  1. LOL – I find myself sitting here literally saying “yeah but” about your post 🙂 Can’t seem to get past the actual working with other people part. My bad.


    September 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

    • Look at you talking: you’re a great collaborator!


      September 12, 2013 at 10:40 am

      • Did you not read my post??? Acting 😉


        September 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

      • I find it thoroughly convincing.


        September 12, 2013 at 10:48 am

  2. […] When I hand out a group project in my writing class I hear audible groans. […]

  3. […] that is too bad. I’ve often wondered why we don’t teach collaboration alongside math and biology and writing and literature in grade school. But it seems collaboration […]

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