Today is a rare office day. There are eight other people in the same room as me: we share a kitchen and a coffee machine, but we are not collaborating. We may talk about the weather, ask how the holiday was, go for lunch together, but that does not make us collaborators. We are cohabiting.
Collaboration is a rare beast. Hard to find, hard to tame and greatly valued for it’s fur. If i collaborate with the right people, i can achieve more than i can alone. My ideas will be stronger, their challenges will drive me to better performance, to question myself and to question the things other people tell me. If i can be humble enough to listen to what my collaborators say and if i can be disciplined enough to act upon it, then we will, collectively, excel.
This is not an aspiration, it’s a fact, and it’s the reason why i reach out through the blog, through my learning network, to friends, colleagues and strangers, reaching out to others who also believe in the power of collaboration and the value of social learning.
There are foundations that need to be in place to learn in social spaces: we have to be prepared to step outside our boundaries, our comfort zone. We have to lower our barriers. If i step into a learning space and just try to demonstrate my expertise, i will fail. I may know a lot about some things, but i know next to nothing about others. In a collaborative social learning space, the dynamics of leadership and expertise are fluid. We take an agile approach, with experts contributing in their areas and listening humbly in others. If we get it right, we learn, if we get it wrong, we just broadcast what we already know.
So to succeed, we need to believe in the integrity of others, we have to be prepared to be vulnerable in front of them. We have to teach and to learn within the same space. Social learning spaces give us the freedom to learn, but only if we give ourselves up to the process.
So can you mandate for collaboration within an organisational, commercial setting? Hard to say: you can’t mandate for respect or for trust, you have to earn both, so probably not. Sure, you can make people have a dialogue, but just being in the same room, just having conversation is like me sitting in this office. I’m present in body, but i’m not collaborating.
Part of the art of building your Personal Learning Network is developing the relationships that are founded on the trust and respect that allow you to collaborate. That’s why these things take time to settle, to bed in. Trust is built over time and over actions.
Social learning spaces can be great places to collaborate, and collaboration can lead us to achieve more than we ever could alone. If we are willing to let it into our lives. If we are humble enough to engage.