CEO blog: For collaboration to succeed, we must define what it means

How do we get better at what we do?
How do we build capacity with scarce resources?
How do we test our knowledge and ensure the solutions we are pursuing are really the right ones?

There are multiple answers to these questions but one of them must be that to do any of these we must embrace collaboration. I’ve long considered collaboration a personal value and a tenet of great leadership. Collaboration doesn’t necessarily come easy, but it is a key component of getting to better outcomes. As I wrote in a 2013 post on collaboration, it “creates solutions that are smarter, more realistic and likely to succeed. The drive to collaborate requires accepting that expertise doesn’t necessarily own solutions. In the final analysis, all of us working together are smarter and more effective than any one of us working alone. That, to me, is the genius of collaboration.”

One of the tricky things about collaboration (probably not different from most “value” words) is that while hard to disagree with (who would put their hand up in a meeting to take the anti-collaboration stance?), it may be just as hard to define. That’s why in different organizations and for different purposes we can’t just declare we are being collaborative, we need to define it and identify the behaviours that demonstrate it. For example, if you draft a new organizational policy, send it to an email group list and solicit comments, would that meet your definition of collaboration? What if you used your organization’s wiki as a vehicle for co-creation (as has been done by collaborative practice at Holland Bloorview in creating a database of outcome measures)? What if you tweeted the draft policy and invited comments from those within and external to the organization? You get the picture…different people might reasonably have different opinions about which, if any, of those methodologies is collaboration, as opposed to, for example, consultation or even broadcasting.

I recently had an experience that felt like authentic collaboration. The Ontario Association of Children’s Rehabilitation Services (OACRS), the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University and Holland Bloorview’s Bloorview Research Institute came together to co-host a meeting of children’s treatment centres from across Ontario to determine the elements of a common research agenda for childhood disability. In a full day session that opened with a family member sharing her family’s journey with childhood disability to create the meaningful context, practitioners at the front line of childhood disability services, families and scientists in the field worked together to identify questions and gaps in the current state of knowledge. The day also forged the beginnings of a network across geography and perhaps even crossing different professional cultures. The day truly felt momentous—of real importance and significance to everyone in the room, to our organizations, and most importantly, for the care required by kids with disabilities and their families.

It’s too early to define the outcomes of this day, but it is an example that helps me flesh out what collaboration looks and feels like to me.

What does collaboration mean to you?


2 thoughts on “CEO blog: For collaboration to succeed, we must define what it means

  1. What does collaboration mean to me:

    1) Gathering information and developing an understanding.
    2) Identifying present and future problems.
    3) Finding solutions through innovative ideas, efficient use of resources, and building new partnerships.

    For example, the provincial government recently cut funding for assistive devices –wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers — by 20 percent. This will effect families caring for those with disabilities. Meanwhile, the City of Toronto is hard at work creating an accessible subway system, in accordance with AODA guidelines. Does this make sense to anyone?


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