Collaboration

By Dr. Robert Boggs DLA Land and Maritime People and Culture Directorate

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A collaborator is a friend with similar interests—the basis for many great friendships. You might share a passion for sports, hobbies, religion, work, politics, food, music, movies or books…When you talk with a Collaborator, you’re on familiar ground, and this can serve as the foundation for a lasting relationship.
- Vital Friends, Tom Rath

Collaboration is important for both personal and organizational success. From an organizational perspective, collaboration occurs when people from the same or different organizations produce something together through joint effort where ownership of the final product or service is shared. From a personal perspective, collaboration increases our influence which benefits each of us and our organization.

We know that our customers have come to expect that we solve complex, cross-cutting issues that must be addressed across organizational and agency boundaries. To solve these complex issues, we must understand that collaboration begins through the establishment of relationships. Relationships must first exist before we can even begin to collaborate effectively.

According to leadership development expert Frances Hesselbein, “We are just at the beginning of an era of essential partnerships, alliances and coalitions. We are learning to build community beyond the walls of the organization, with the same kind of initiative and energy we have used in building the organization within the walls.”

Working across boundaries can be challenging but to meet the challenges of the future we have to purposefully cross those boundaries. The benefits of collaboration are too numerous to ignore. Benefits such as cost savings, new learning, resource sharing and value creation are just a few of the advantages we gain from collaborative efforts.

We build relationships one person at a time. Without relationships there can be no collaboration. That is why we need to take advantage of and attend conferences, meetings, social and other events that allow us to meet those who can help us obtain our personal and organizational goals. It may very well be that you don’t yet know the people who will help you achieve your goals.

Tom Rath recommends the following action plan for collaboration in work and in life:

  • Attend events that interest you
  • Volunteer for a club or organization with a mission or purpose you strongly believe in
  • Make time to share stories and reminisce
  • Surprise your friends with things that you know would interest them
  • Create traditions based on shared interests
  • Invite those with similar interest to join you
  • Schedule a regular day to eat lunch or dinner together

There are other ways to build relationships that can turn into collaborative efforts. Always be on the lookout for relationship building opportunities. Observe and learn from those who are successful at collaboration. Spend more time looking into the faces of others and less time looking at the computer screen. Intentionally invest time in relationship building and do so generously.

We can learn a great deal about relationships and collaboration from unusual sources. I’ve learned as much from bad examples as good examples. As much as I like music, I believe Simon and Garfunkel got the following lyrics wrong:

I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island.

Their lyrics are not a formula for success. We can’t afford to be rocks or islands. We have to build relationships and form friendships. We have to bring our unique self into every relationship. Everyone must be valued and nurtured. If we do these things, meaningful collaboration will follow.


Vital Friends by Tom Rath is available to DLA associates with access to LMS (audiobook and digital download). Through LMS, access SkillSoft Books 24 x 7 and complete a search query. LMS site is DLA CAC enabled.