The Changing Definition of Collaboration

collaboration definition

The word “collaboration” can be difficult to concretely define because it means different things to different people.


We live and work in a world of constantly shifting jargon. Someone's always trying to coin the next "it" phrase, the next "BYOD" or "Internet of Things" or other trend that will light the internet ablaze.

As such, even commonplace terms can get a little muddy after years of misuse, changing definitions and evolving technology. Take "collaboration," for example. How would you define it? What does it mean to you?

Depending on industry, role or department, you’re likely going to have a unique spin on what that word means. There may be some commonalities, such as teamwork or technology, but there are a lot of ways to approach what it means to collaborate with others.

The trouble with a word like “collaboration,” particularly in the business sense, is that it means different things depending on who you’re talking to. An IT audience leaps to terms like SaaS and UC&C, while the marketers in the room think more of working with agencies and collaborating on documents and project files.

Technology vs. Value

In today’s hyper-connected workplace, collaboration is increasingly defined by technology. Whether it's unified communications, web and audio conferencing or shared team workspaces, working together in today's environment is often primarily a virtual endeavor.

However, while it might be a tough pill to swallow, particularly for IT and other decision-makers, most people in your organization couldn't care less about the new software you just deployed. People don’t care about technology, they care about value. They don’t care what it is or how it works, all they want is to get their work done in the most effective way possible. If your new collaboration software enables that in an intuitive, unobtrusive and easy-to-learn way, great! They’ll fold it into their workflow.

If it doesn’t provide that value? It won't matter how shiny the new user interface is, how efficient the codecs are or how many “-aaS” acronyms it has—those tools will end up abandoned for whatever truly works for your employees’ needs. And you'll be stuck with a less-than-stellar ROI.

Collaboration is About People

Even with all the latest and greatest software and hardware, people are the heart of collaboration. All of the technology, best practices, cultural initiatives and methodologies are worthless if you can't make them appeal to the people on the other end.

Your employees are core to collaboration in your organization. They’re the ones that benefit the most from it and they’re the ones that suffer when it’s absent or not effectively encouraged. The human element should always be the first consideration when making a new technology purchase or beginning a new cultural initiative.

That’s why I’ve been chasing my own collaboration definition for so long: I love helping people connect. And no matter where the technology takes us, there will always be a human being to connect with on the other side.

For more insights on the changing nature of business collaboration, download “The Future of Business Collaboration: 2015 Edition” today.

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