Communication is NOT Collaboration

We are deep enough into the wide scale adoption of hybrid-working, chat tools and video conferencing to draw some conclusions. One thing is now becoming abundantly clear: 24×7 access to high-bandwidth and high velocity communication is not going to deliver collaboration.

Two and a half years on from the beginnings of the Covid pandemic, our workplaces are multi-dimensional hybrids – days, hours, locations, working styles and more. The tools of digital work that had long existed are now in widespread adoption with most organisations combining the traditional email and telephony with chat, video and other tools of digital work. Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack have been household names and there is a long list of competitors in use, but little revolutionary.

Before the pandemic, it was important to remind organisations looking at a digital workplace project that there was a difference between communication tools and effective collaboration between employees. The last two years have confirmed this experience. The rush to supply tools to meet, to stay connected and to do work does not guarantee collaboration.

There are many reasons why complaints about colleagues and collaboration in organisations are on the rise. We have lost some social muscles in the last years and the fragmentation, smaller bubbles and algorithmic information mean connection is harder. There are also real stress, trauma and mental health issues flowing from our recent experiences.

Three issues are most problematic in my experience:

  • Clarity: Are your teams really aligned to the same goals? Do they express those goals in measures and rich stories that everyone understands? You can’t collaborate without shared or aligned goals at least in part. Minor misalignments where people think they understand fast moving communication are far too common
  • Context: Do your teams share the same context of information in their work? In the volume of communication, it is easy to lose the context of information. For example, I was invited to join a regular meeting, there was a clear logic to each meeting but I couldn’t ever quite predict it. It took far too long for me to realise an agenda and documents were shared in a Team in Microsoft Team that nobody ever mentioned. Lacking context can mean you cannot understand other’s work or communications. Context was always going to be an issue at this time.
  • Cohesion: Relationships and moods post pandemic are brittle. Bringing people together, holding people together and striking compromises is harder than it seemed before. We have lost social muscles.
  • Complexity: Agile, iterative, parallel, hybrid, distributed, global, connected, faster, more data-driven, digital, automated – all the adjectives we use to describe our world of work make it more complex, not less. These elements can make even the simplest collaboration into a complex systemic change exercise.

Communication is the vehicle. Collaboration is the work. Don’t confuse the two. The first is possible if you have the right media. The second depends on culture, people and practices. The reason organisations consistently need change and adoption to support their collaboration goals is not because the communication tech is hard. The hard but most rewarding part is always the people in the teams.

One thought on “Communication is NOT Collaboration

  1. Exactly right. Communication and collaboration are two different things. I think the former is what people resort to when they feel that they’re not cutting through the multitude of platforms to get to the right people they need to work with; so they share the same message across all platforms resulting duplication of messages and notification overwhelm. I believe that it stems from having a consistent set of practices that are used by everyone that will minimise these situations from happening. An acceptance and respect for the different spaces we are all in and how we can reach each other and respect our time and balance for the work that needs to be done. Thanks again for your writing. I enjoy reading your posts now as my morning routine over a cuppa.

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