So, here’s a horrendous new word for you: communilaboration.

People collaborate at work, in order to get things done. They collaborate when things can get done more effectively together. Collaboration involves the sharing of intention, information and effort in a way that creates “synergy” – work gets done more effectively because we are more together than as separate individuals.

People used to (and still do) collaborate by sharing the same space. They meet in a room to make decisions together. Teams may locate their desks close to each other. Where there is geographical spread, people will travel to meet and work together.

The advent of the telephone and, later, email, enabled people to collaborate without needing total co-location or regular physical meeting. The telephone became the teleconference. The email became the email group. Virtual communication enhanced physical co-working and, sometimes, even replaced it. Decisions were made across the Atlantic by teleconference, though rarely by shared email.

And today, we have all kinds of tools for online and virtual collaboration – the sharing of working documents in the Cloud. microblogging platforms such as Yammer, shared digital work spaces via intranet platforms such as Sharepoint, and video conferencing that will soon be holographic.

At the heart of collaboration that is physical is joint action and decision making. Supporting it is sharing of information and shared communication.

Virtual or “digital work place” collaboration is supposed to also deliver joint working, joint decision making and more effective collective “getting things done.”

And here the myth kicks in. I suggest there is much less real collaboration in the digital work place than is reported. In the last five years I’ve witnessed far more information sharing than joint decision making, and even less joint “doing” – where doing can be measured in terms of business benefit and improvement.

However, in most cases, I believe that digital work place collaboration in terms of real work processes and improvement is not taking place. What is taking place is communillaboration that gets talked up by those doing itas if it were something more than useful dialoguing. Are your Facebook friends your real friends? Many Facebook friends (though not all) are really no more than warmer or colder contacts, virtual acquaintances who often say they are coming to your event and who rarely if ever show up. They’ll commit to your intention rather than to real action. Yammer groups mostly share news, advice, thoughts, opinions, links and ideas – they rarely deliver physical-impact decisions. They tend to bang on the glass window into resourced reality.

Communillaboration is a process that is often practised in the spirit of collaboration but rarely reaches beyond communication. It exists more in hope that action. For example:

– the sharing of ideas

– the sharing of information resources

– the sharing of question and answering dialogue

– the sharing of humour and social banter

– the sharing of key documents

– the copying in of people for one reason or another

– the sharing of document creation

These are all valuable forms of communication. They are methods of dialoguing. Often the amount of this communication amounts to pseudo-collaboration where the quantity of “friendly” communication is often souped up as (delayed) decision making. But little tangible work gets done. People still phone each other and meet to get things done. Action takes place offline. Action is often bolted onto the end of a communillaboration process to make it look as if the action resulted from the digital work-based collaboration. The stakes are too high to admit that most of the dialogue is hot air, so it is often dressed up as delivery.

People aren’t meeting that often in the digital work place  to make big decisions. Currently the tactile needs of eye contact, physical presence and the dangers of text-based misunderstanding and its inability to convey in-the-moment emotion, coupled with clunky and clumsily realised collaboration apps and platforms, all result in more communillaboration that real collaboration. The digital work place is largely a place of disembodied voices. A place of ghostly intention with hands that pass through the physical tables where work gets done.

Communillaboration is prolific – and growing. It is often bigged up as more than it is and one sign of this is the use of superlative congratulation that is way beyond what we would authentically do in a room. “Amazing!”

Communillaboration is a blind alley for businesses and organisations that require quicker and better collaboration in core work processes. Soon we will name it for the white elephant that it is. Virtual offices are rarely offices at all, but more virtual communication hubs and desktops. Virtual meeting rooms are places of discussion far more than decision.

And that will free us up to focus on the virtues of communilaboration.

Much information sharing can, of course, be by third party, and lead to further action by other members of the organisation further down the line. We can pass on ideas and learning. The access to an evolving knowledge and experience base is a clear benefit of digitally-based collaboration. Communillaboration is all about sharing knowledge, experience and providing clues to getting things done. Communillaboration supports organisational learning, intra and inter-project learning. It allows people to connect to and find other people. It enables creative thinking to take place together. It also breaks down geographical distance allowing cross-team and even inter-organisational sharing.

But it is a myth that we are getting work done in the digital work place. Not yet, we aren’t. It could be that decisions of the will are fairly sacred and still required a more “raw” physical meeting. But, as things stand, communillaboration is the real name for digital work place collaboration. And it is more talk that walk.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on April 30, 2013, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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