We’re like, collaborating, right?

Stephan Argent argues that despite what adlanders might secretly think, collaboration is not simply an excuse to drag people into meetings.

Is it just me, or is the word “collaboration” being as overused as the word “like”? Or am I like wrong here…?

Like, I’m not sure.

Marketers often tell us they’re a “collaborative” organisation or they’re a “collaborative” team. Agencies tell us they’re “collaborative” working with other agencies. But when it comes down to it, I’m not sure either marketers or agencies really understand what being “collaborative” really means or how to apply the term to their respective activities.

Unfortunately, the reality is that collaboration is being bandied as a term that’s a polite way of actually saying something quite different. A couple of variations of this might be:

“Better include everyone we can think of to cover our collective asses…” OR

“No idea – why don’t we get a bunch of people in a room to see if we can figure out what to do…” OR

“Don’t care – get [parties concerned] in a room and make them sort it out…” OR

“Better meet with these guys or it’ll look like we don’t value their opinion…” OR

“I’m not going to risk making a decision – if it’s a collective decision then I / we can’t be blamed for it…” OR

“Lots of people in a room will make us look good…”

Call it what you will. Defined like any of this and the idea of collaboration is a gong show.

So what is collaboration supposed to be?

Wikipedia tell us that the definition of collaboration is: “working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realized shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective – for example an endeavor that is creative in nature – by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.”

Still a bit cumbersome, perhaps, but the heart of this is around “achieving shared goals” or “collective determination to reach an identical objective”. And that’s very different from just getting lots of people to provide an opinion (which typically just prolongs a process).

To get the most from collaboration, we must identify the correct people to collaborate with.

And by the right people, I’m talking about both the size of your collaboration team and the value each can bring to the process. Ideas and contribution that bright minds can provide, collaborative resources also know when to step aside and allow others to take the spotlight – thereby allowing better ideas to be pushed forward – faster.

Conversely, not everyone works well in collaborative sessions – bossy, dominating personalities for example, will likely limit the participation of others, thereby diminishing the value of getting people together in the first place.

By contrast, collaboration won’t work if there are too many people in the mix. The old adage of “too many cooks in the kitchen” holds true here. If you’re facing large groups or departments that you want to involve in a process – identify the best of the best and ensure they’re empowered accordingly.

The same holds true if there are too many irrelevant people in the mix. If collaboration is used as a forum for consensus, the lowest common denominator will emerge and the group won’t deliver the best possible solution to drive the business forward – defeating the purpose of collaborating in the first place.


Collaboration should never be viewed as a default, cover-your-butt solution and the word shouldn’t be used as a catch-all for dragging people into meetings.

Collaboration can be extremely powerful if applied correctly, but can be a boat anchor to progress if used incorrectly, or for the wrong reasons.

Stephan Argent is president of agency search and media management consultancy Le Riche Argent. The full version of this post first appeared on the TrinityP3 blog here.


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