Collaboration: Friend or Foe… Well it depends

A detailed and nuanced argument presented by Collaborative Futures illuminates the complex nature of collaboration as a process. And while I do, at heart, share these, and other, authors’ utopian idea of collaboration as an answer, or at least a step toward, a salvation of many social issues, I remain unsure about what do we really mean by collaboration and whether its positive effects are sustainable and always beneficial. Collaboration can take many forms and shapes, but it always requires a group of people. Any group of people, in turn, is susceptible to group processes such as group-think, othering, and diffusion of responsibility, to name a few. These can lead to dismissal of alternative opinions, uncritical evaluation of one’s own work, and privileging one’s point of view, particularly when collaborative groups form on the basis of “shared political perspective rather than interdependence through need,” which CAE conversely argues to be preferred. Two collaborative groups, regardless of how democratizing their respective infrastructures are, might be at conflict.

In fact, I wonder whether we would be as excited about collaborations if they did not have “our” best interests at heart. Would a collaboration among a group of corporate executives geared toward limiting  a supply of a particular resource to rise up the prices be considered a collaboration? Would a group of young professionals working under the collaboration criteria provided by Collaborative Futures but on a for-profit project be considered a collaboration? Or would we call it business? Is collaboration a business? Can or should it be?

To use an archaic definition of business as meaningful activity, any collaboration, I hope, is a business . But in today’s discourse it appears that word collaboration is being used as a juxtaposition to words like business, neoliberalism, and capitalism, to name a few. But is it really? Or is it all just rhetoric?


3 thoughts on “Collaboration: Friend or Foe… Well it depends

  1. Silvana Ramos

    Aleksandra, your post reminded me of this TEDTalk.
    In it, she talks about how introverts thrive in quiet learning environments. That is, not in a group. Collaboration for them is not productive. Sometimes I let my students decide whether they want to work in groups or alone. I find that a handful of them get in groups but the majority work alone. I’m not sure if I should require them all to work in groups. Maybe if they tried it, they’d like it. I just remember I always hated it, so I give them the choice.

    Karyna, I feel the same apprehension as you. Collaboration can be harmful when it turns into mob mentality. I follow Anonymous on Twitter (should I not use the A-word?) and, for the most part, agree with their stance on different issues. A few months ago, however, some stupid, stupid woman tweeted something along the lines of, “I’m going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding, I’m white.” A-word took it up as their cause to make sure that there would be people waiting for her at the airport in Africa when she arrived. I watched as this stupid, stupid woman’s comments became fodder for an angry mob. She ended up losing her job. She was in PR, so I suppose she should have known better. Anyway, “collaboration” turned into something twisted and perverse.

  2. Aleksandra Kaplon-Schilis

    Maura and Karyna, indeed in the 21st century the workforce demands that many people work together, whether in groups or as parts of teams. However, is it less important that these people bring extraordinary individual skills to said teams?
    By gearing your teaching style on collaborative learning (putting students to work in groups which we are actually required to do in every class in every lesson), we are robbing individuals of the chance to learn the skills to problem solve on their own, to make tough decisions if necessary without the aid of others and to have the ability to come up with ideas individually. Another aspect to consider is the different personalities in the group. Would the young developing student who maybe introverted not find it really detrimental to his development to be put in a group with other students who are extroverted? (In essence -suffocating their ability to grow?) Is it a teacher’s responsibility to evaluate every student and place them in these required collaborative groups based on their respective personalities, emotional levels, cognitive abilities, such that each individual in the group compliments the next? If that was the case, in what ways are teachers prepared to do this?

  3. Maura A. Smale (she/her)

    Interesting points, Karyna, which immediately make me think of our students. We’re encouraged to have students work in teams so they can get used to group work, which will hopefully make them attractive to 21st century employers since they’ll presumably (as the story goes) be working in groups in their future careers. This idea even affects academic libraries, as many are rushing to build/renovate more and more space for collaborative or group work (even as the students I spoke with in my research emphasized that they needed quiet, individual space for their academic work since they lacked that space at home). So I’d argue that in many ways the term collaboration is being appropriated by the business world. What does that mean for us as teachers and learners? Should we push back on collaboration as a goal in our classrooms?

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