Unbuild, Reprogram, Reclaim - Boomgaardhof, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Scientific Recipe For A Comfortable Collaboration

“Archivist: Your version of the truth is all that matters.
Sonmi-451: Truth is singular. Its “versions” are mistruths.”

Movie: Cloud Atlas

Working together already may be troublesome. It becomes even harder when people keep to their own version of the truth and different “discourses” stand in the way of reaching a common goal.


To explain the concept of discourse in this context: specialists have their own way of talking and thinking about their field, so it may be difficult for one specialist to imagine another specialist’s field of expertise. Every specialist lives in his/her own reality, so to speak, and shares a discourse with colleagues of the same specialism or, as Wikipedia describes it, “…specific data, information, and knowledge…”. From the perspective of different discourses, then, it should be no surprise that Steve Dale states: collaboration is an art.

Difference, Context and Truth

When we look at this from the angle of “discourse analysis“, there are several items to keep in mind:

  • The difference between cooperation and collaboration. I find the difference being best explained by headmine:

“When collaborating, people work together (co-labor) on a single shared goal. (…) When cooperating, people perform together (co-operate) while working on selfish yet common goals.”

I guess the most important conclusion here is to ask: What discourse – hence: way of working together – do you prefer?

  • The importance of context. Context (as you may know, one of my favorite concepts) plays an important role in this, because 1) our judgement is based on the discourse we hold true, thus the context from which we see reality, and 2) not only do we often forget our own context, but we also frequently forget to take the context of others into account. Besides that, though,

“[n]o story of achievement should ever be removed from its broader social context.” – Reid Hoffman

In other words, no matter what context you find to be true, if big achievements are the objective, you will need to work together with others. Perhaps you already are, but you haven’t appreciated it that way yet…

  • From the discourse that you hold on to, what is true and what is right? More importantly, how much does that differ from the truth and rightfulness of the people you are working with? The bigger the gap, the harder it will be to collaborate (or even cooperate). Nevertheless, research [NL] has shown that when specialists work together – under the right circumstances – their solution excels the solution only one specialist would come up with.


Unbuild, Reprogram, Reclaim - Boomgaardhof, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Wall painting Boomgaardhof, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Logically, the best way of working together would be to create a common discourse. This is where Dale his “attributes of a good collaborator” come in: Authenticity, Recognition, Trust and Passion. To be authentic and recognized by your direct peers, as well as to share trust and passion in a collaboration, is probably easier within one discourse from the same specialists as it is when different discourses need to be combined. For this reason, a common discourse should transcend those differences. That way, specialists can expand their level of the ART-characteristics and make it possible to collaborate beyond their (usual) discourse.

Therefore, looking differently at your own reality and that of your colleagues can already improve a (potential) collaboration. Just ask yourself: What discourse do I use? What, to me, is the (only) truth in my work? And especially: What hinders me to work with others who hold on to a different reality?


A similar blog post was also published on 42bis.nl [NL]

Pauline Siebers

I started blogging mainly because of my interest in organizational cultures and (online) communications. Over the years it has become my passion to help professionals and entrepreneurs build their dreams, accelerate their results, and create richer, more fulfilling lives.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *