May 22, 2008

Collaboration and the Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is the "Golden Rule" and it may be a key to collaboration.

If the basic sense of fairness underlying the Golden Rule set the terms of collaboration within an organization, it might in fact be possible for otherwise competitive co-workers to begin to collaborate. Adherence to the Golden Rule allows participants to work together and to share their insights knowing that they will have access to the best work of colleagues and will receive fair credit for their own contributions. This is a first step for people who are not yet convinced of the benefits of collaboration and are fearful of the potential loss of competitive advantage as a result of collaboration.  

For those who have moved beyond the simplistic belief that merely providing web 2.0 tools will create a collaborative culture, there has been a further challenge to identify the necessary preconditions for a collaborative culture. In my earlier post on Creating a Culture of Collaboration, one critical precondition mentioned was trust. More recently, in his interesting post, Reflections on the Nature of Collaboration, Shiv Singh talks about how essential trust is to collaboration.  That trust is built on a foundation created from evidence within an organization that a participant will be treated fairly.

However, achieving an adequate level of trust is easier said than done. Developing trust is incredibly difficult in an organization that fosters constant competition amongst its employees. Trust also is hard to sustain in an organization that isn't scrupulous about insisting that true teamwork be honored and that the contributions of individual members of a team be recognized. And trust may well be impossible in organizations where the guy tooting his own horn loudly drowns out less pushy colleagues. At the end of the day, most people need to know that to the extent they make useful contributions, those efforts will be noticed and rewarded.

Yet, in the absence of complete trust, it may still be possible to begin an effective collaboration provided there is a basic agreement on the part of the organization and its employees that fairness matters. This is where the Golden Rule or the Ethic of Reciprocity comes into play. Even if you aren't entirely comfortable with the notion of collaboration, and you don't completely trust your colleagues to do the right thing when left to their own devices, management support for the Golden Rule should go a long way towards creating an environment within which collaboration is less risky and, therefore, possible.  

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