Collaboration is a familiar word in education and business circles and is seen as an important activity to amplify learning, problem solving and  change. But what does good collaboration look like?

Bot and teachers working together I remember going to the International Conference On Thinking a few years back and coming back with a new word in my vocabulary called coblabberation. Coblabberation refers to groups working together ‘collaborating’ but little substance comes from all the talking. Or another words getting together and doing a lot of collegial talking with no meaningful change or outcome as a result.

Rebbecca Sweeney in her masters research showed that successful collaboration is more than just getting together and sharing ideas. She suggests that an important ingredient of successful collaboration is also being able to critique the ideas and practices being shared.

This view is also reflected in Patrick lencioni’s work around a conflict continuum. At one end of the continuum we have artificial harmony where groups will not critique or challenge ideas for fear of conflict and upsetting other group members. The problem with artificial harmony is that little change or improvement in practices can occur in this space.

Lencioni(1)

Construct from The Advantage. Redesigned with permission.

At the other end we have personal attacks. This is where there is a lot of challenge and critique but it’s done in a destructive way attacking the people rather than critiquing ideas. In this space relationships break down thus crippling change improvement and any movement forward.

The ideal space is somewhere in the middle, keeping an acute awareness that the group doesn’t slide to far left or right of the ideal conflict point. In order to work effectively the group must have a high level of trust and shared understanding that it is ok to disagree, critique and challenge each other’s ideas (but not the person).

One of the rules we have on our board is that it is ok to disagree, but we must never become disagreeable. Challenge and questioning is invited and while we might disagree on some matters we are one mind, one voice – we are a team who don’t take each other too seriously, but take our work very seriously.

We talk about collaboration a lot, but how often do we stop and question how effective we are as a group – are we just coblabberating? Do we explicitly talk about how we will work together or question what types behaviours are needed for effective collaboration to happen? How are we talking to our students about critiquing ideas respectfully when collaborating?

Maybe this post raises more questions than it solves , but I think it is a worthwhile topic to explore deeper given the weight we give to the power of collaboration. What are some of the ways that you approach collaboration amongst staff, students and parents? What has worked well and what have you noticed doesn’t work so well? I would love to hear your ideas…