When Collaboration Goes Bad

May 12, 2007 at 6:11 pm | Posted in collaboration | 6 Comments

Since my job involves researching collaboration and content strategies for large organizations and enterprises, I am often in the position of describing how collaboration can help organizations function more effectively. The definition we use always sounded like a good thing to me:

“The act of working together with one or more people in order to achieve something”

Unfortunatley, I guess how good it is depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Depending on how it is used, collaboration can be immoral, illegal, and downright traitorous.

Lets start with immoral. The Wall Street Journal recently (5/11/2007 pW11) had a story called “Their Cheatin’ Hearts” by Charlotte Allen that includes the callout “You call it copying; students call it collaborating.” It goes on to say

An article about the Duke scandal in the current issue of Business Week speculates that getting together with fellow students to produce answers to a take-home exam might be more aptly described as “postmodern learning, wiki style”

No doubt those college kids “collaborating” on their tests may escalate to actual illegal acts, breaking the law with collaboration when they get into the working world. “Price fixing” and “collaboration” often go hand to hand in discussions of collusion. In fact, “Illegal collaboration” gets 1,200,000 hits on Google (more than twice as many as “‘virtual workspace’ collaboration”).

How does it get worse then illegal? How about treason and helping the other side? The front page of the Wall Street Journal for 5/14/07 said

Poland’s top court struck down key parts of a new law that public servants be screened for collaboration with Communist-era secret police.

So now we’re screening for collaboration, like it’s typhoid. The dictionary is loaded with such definitions of collaboration that include “the enemy”. For example the Online Etymology Dictionary (accessed from Dictionary.com) includes the definition

Collaboration [as] “traitorous cooperation with the enemy,” dates from 1940, originally in reference to the Vichy Government of France.

It seems all of those bad uses of collaboration still fit our definition: ““The act of working together with one or more people in order to achieve something”. I certainly hope the people you’re working with are trying to achieve project success, process improvement, or a creative solution to a problem and not an “A+” for a test you didn’t study for, artificially high profits by bypassing the invisible hand of the market, or the overthrow of France. Vive la Collaboration!



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  1. […] August 7, 2007 at 2:02 pm | In business case, collaboration | I wrote in a previous posting about all the negative possible meanings of the word “collaboration”. But we view […]

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