As a creative consultancy that marries rigorous strategy with world-class creative capabilities, every piece of work that BrightHouse produces is born from collaboration. While collaboration has long been central to the way we operate, we are constantly learning to maintain our position on the leading edge of this practice. To keep us fresh, we recently conducted an internal luminary workshop to explore the nuances of productive collaboration as a team.
If you have cracked the cover of a major business publication in the last few years, you have likely noticed that collaboration has become a pet topic among experts. In businesses plagued by fragmentation and opacity, It has become conventional wisdom that “collaboration pays.” Today more than ever as “traditional hierarchies continue to flatten,” businesses demand higher levels of cooperation across functions, tenures, and business units. Collaboration, as one writer recently quipped, is “next to godliness” in the modern business environment.
The virtues of collaboration range from the practical—reducing fragmentation and opacity streamline daily work—to the psychological and the visionary. New research has shown that collaborative working environments create synergies and unleash untapped potential because they instill a sense of perceived safety among team members.
More recently, the promise of collaboration has been tempered by warnings against its excesses. Unregulated collaboration runs amok—and it turns our most valuable collaborators into institutional bottlenecks that slow work even as they elevate it. Collaboration breaks down boundaries but excessive collaboration can lead to bottlenecks.
As part of our ongoing Learning Agenda, BrightHouse invited actor and activist John Kern to lead a workshop, hosted at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Museum. John is an expert in fostering communication among diverse groups and the co-founder of MeMo, a consultancy that provides training and strategies for enhancing communication and cooperation in professional environments.
The two-hour event began with some reflections from John, who introduced the image of traditional Japanese joinery. The traditional construction methods of Japan relied on joining pieces of wood without any external fasteners or binding agents. Over time, as the pieces grow and expand into one another, the joints become stronger rather than weaker. John encouraged us to take this image as a metaphor for the collaborative enterprise.
John’s insights also pushed us to draw some distinctions. We discovered that collaboration is distinct from coordination on one hand, and cooperation, on the other. While coordination involves narrow, short-term goals, cooperation is directed toward broader mandates—still relies on a need-to-know model that retains a high degree of opacity. Collaborators go beyond the coordination and cooperation models; they work toward shared goals to create something entirely new.
Most importantly, John helped us understand that the root of effective collaboration is empathy. Grounded in trust, collaboration is built on the social capital that develops slowly in groups and strengthens over time. Great collaborators can accelerate the process by always assuming positive intent among their partners. But trust-building has a long arc, and the very best collaborators will ultimately share one virtue above all others: patience.
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