Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The collaboration pyramid (or iceberg)

The majority of the value-creation activities in an enterprise are hidden. They happen below the surface. What we see when we think of collaboration in the traditional sense (structured team-based collaboration) is the tip of the iceberg – teams who are coordinating their actions to achieve some goal. We don’t see - and thus don’t recognize - all the activities which have enabled the team to form and which help them throughout their journey. We see the people in the team, how they coordinate their actions and the results of their actions, but we rarely see the other things which have been critical for their success. For example, we don’t see how they have used their personal networks to access knowledge, information and skills which they don’t have in their team already but which are instrumental for their success.

The layers which are below the surface are usually not recognized or valued. Below the surface you typically find:
  • The direct and indirect contributions from people outside the team – by the extended team, stakeholders and external contributors
  • Other kinds of broader and ad hoc collaboration (social collaboration) than those that fit within the traditional definition of (structured, team-based) collaboration
  • The ongoing community building that makes people trust each other and commit themselves to a shared purpose
  • The efforts of gaining the workspace awareness that is necessary for making the right decisions in any collaborative effort
Bring those above the surface so they can be recognized and supported. If people can't do those things, even the traditional collaboration efforts will suffer or might not even happen. If we are to improve efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative efforts, we need to better support these layers.

The first step towards improving these layers of collaboration and support other kinds of collaboration is to recognize their existence and value.


  1. Thank you for reflections and ideas, Oscar.I´m going to share your post in my blog.

  2. Ok, here it is. The spanish version of your article with a few previous comments. Thanks again, Oscar:


  3. After recognizing the value, would the next step be to bring some form of structure in to this type of collaboration? This would enable it to visualize and formalize it, or?

    Bart Schrooten @ Lumo Research

  4. @Bart - IMO the next step would be to enable this type of collaboration with digital means and at the same time making it visible. This relates to the concept of "tiny work" which I introduced in a CMS article a while back:


    @David - I am really honored and thankful that you have translated my article to Spanish. :-)

  5. Hi Oscar, I was made aware of this post by Jane Hart. I agree that useful collaboration, when it happens, does so below the surface and organisation have trouble seeing it and rewarding it.

    In my organisation my role is around facilitating collaborative practices andy your pyramid made me think about why people choose to collaborate.

    From this is wondered whether a change or addition to the text at the bottom could be:

    purpose (comes from the Line and the organisational strategy), skills (tacit knowledge) and autonomy (choosing to collaborate) = motivation.

    Motivation being the driver for collaborative practices that are not yet recognised by organisations but are what drives us to share, collaborate and contribute.

    I've recently read Drive by Dan Pink you see!



  6. Hi Casson, thanks for your comment!

    I am a fan of Dan Pink and will definitely think about revising the foundation of the pyramid to purpose, skills and autonomy (+ values which I believe is very important)

  7. Hi Oscar, Thanks for getting back to me.

    Regarding values, are you talking about personal values that drive us to be open, honest, sharing and collaborative (in a work situation)? And what part do organisational value(s) - part of the purpose maybe - have to play in this?

    How should organisations deliver purpose and values to their employees in a way that helps them to collaborate?



  8. I should have written shared values, as well as shared purpose. If we don't share basic values (and purpose) we will have problems collaborating. I believe that finding (people with) the right values and working hard to make sure actions/behaviors reflect those values is what any organization should do if it is to be successful. Some values are more geared towards collaboration, such as openness, honesty, respect, understanding etc, so if an organization relies on collaboration it needs to enforce the right values (and behaviors) to create a collaborative culture.

  9. Hi Oscar - its been too long. As always, you capture an important issue here - sort of analogous with explicit and tacit knowledge is explicit and uh - tacit work and collaboration. I have a slight issue with it as a pyramid, tho, as these are really going on in parallel. I've described it as three related but different types of collab - (creative, connective and compounding - I'm sure you're sick of hearing it) but i think your visable vs invisible concept here is really important.

  10. Your post gives me the opportunity to bang the drum about collaboration.

    Whenever I read about "collaboration" with open ended definitions it doesn't hit the question why collaborate. Its about using a common methodology where the lead organisation has set out their position to gain a beneficial outcome, then chooses to use collaboration with others as a way of increasing the benefits and reducing the costs, speeding up the outcome. Working with other businesses / people who also want to gain a similar outcome but may be re-purpose it for their own circumstance. Collaboration is about gain, its not for its own sake. The culture to use collaboration as a management choice (a way of working) is a straightforward business decision. It requires specific skills, interventions and situational staging.

    What often happens when collaboration is debated it ends up as management flotsam and doesn't get a fair hearing. This is due more to the managers deploying it rather than the concept. Make it real, train managers to know there is a broader playbook to work from and collaboration needs as much thought as financial management, business development and so on.

    We do ourselves a disservice to talk about it from the perspective of cultural generalities.

  11. I do think that many organisations recognise that value creation takes place at all levels. But too fee organisation adequately compensate value creation at lower levels.