Why do we collaborate?

As part of a presentation I am preparing for a public health  forum exploring enabling technologies, I have created a slide that I think summarizes why people collaborate. It was a bit of epiphany when it came to me so I thought I would share it in case it had value to you.

What I am proposing is  that there are essentially three reasons people collaborate, and these can be connected to  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs .

A slide showing Maslow's Hierarchy of needs and three motivations to collaborate.

I really should be working on something else at the moment, so here are very brief explanations for the three reasons:

1.  Get’er done!  No this is not just for rednecks, anyone with a specific deliverable or project to complete will collaborate if it helps them complete the work. This is your typical work oriented motivation. I align it with the lower part of Maslow’s Hierarchy because it usually related to work and earning money which is what we generally use to fulfill most of our lower level needs.

2. The second reason is essentially social combined with a belief that maybe many minds are more powerful than one. I align this with the middle of Maslow.

3. The final reason we collaborate has to do with Self Actualization, that nirvana state we presumably all strive for and which is often considered the underlying motivation for continued learning.

Well there you have it, what do you think? Does this ring true? Is it useful?

About Thom Kearney

Change agent, teacher, arts, science, open government, father, mentor, storyteller, husband, dog owner,collaborator, not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in Collaboration, Culture, Learning, Presentation, Uncategorized, Web 2.0. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Why do we collaborate?

  1. wayne foster says:

    This is really excellent – that collaboration can be achieved at any level however according to a heirarchy. Finding the motivations will help deliver the message at any given level. It can dovetail into C Wilsons work in building toward the Self Actualized collaboration.

    I think it is a nice piece of IP.


  2. Thom Kearney says:

    Thanks for the comments Wayne, please feel free to use it under CC.

    Creative Commons License
    This work by http://www.strategyguy.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


  3. Karl Ghiara says:

    Good post Thom. When I think of the lower part of Maslow’s Hierarchy I also think of what is needed for survival. Hence I would also add another motivation for collaboration is co-existence. The world is shrinking and if we do not find ways to collaborate, sheer co-existence is in jeopardy.


  4. DBast says:

    I think you wrote something very interesting here, but I disagree.

    I think you’re dead-on about the driver for collaboration being “get’er done”, but not the others.

    Get’er done is a very real driver, and Maslow-ic need for collaboration – because it is the end result for working. Basically, completing the task at hand, reaching you’re end result, etc. And with it, there are two qualities with gettin’er done: on-time, and well. Ideally you cover both of these bases, but with limited resources (mainly: time), you sacrifice one of these.

    The rest are qualities of outcomes of gettin’er done. You mention 2: Because it’s better, and because you learn. I dispute this.

    First point: Collaboration isn’t always better:
    Collaboration isn’t always better. Sometimes working with others is a pain. Although some would avoid collaboration across the board, and others push for it at every outset, I’m agnostic: I think collaboration has its contexts. Which isn’t always. Sometimes it’s better to go off in the cave and work on your thing. But sometimes, as I refer to above, to get’er done, either on time or well or both, you need to collaborate. Because you can tap into experts or share the load, or both.

    Second point: Collaboration to learn is an outcome, not a driver:
    If you learned from collaboration, that was an outcome. Sometimes you will learn, sometimes you won’t. There are exercises in collaboration that is aimed for collective learning: called “collaborative learning” or “social learning”, but that only reveals that learning is not innate in collaboration (otherwise it would go without saying). But there isn’t a need to learn in the whole exercise of collaboration. There will always be something to learn from any human process, but that’s not something innate about collaboration.

    But I think what you wrote can be applied to “Social Learning”. We learn, socially, not only for insight to achieving results / get’er done, but also because learning socially is perhaps a Maslow-ic need, being natural and biological for us Homo Sapiens, as well as the need to improve our understanding of things (to learn and contribute). I think @hjarche would be an authority in this area to comment.

    I enjoyed your piece. I’ll look further to these comments to get more ideas and insights. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • Thom Kearney says:

      Awesome comment Doug, thought provoking and I want to reply in depth but can’t at the moment. I guess I see that one reason we may collaborate is for the “opportunity” to learn from others. But I need to give the whole thing some thought and get back to you.

      I will see if I can get @hjarche to weigh in.



  5. Thanks for inviting me to this conversation, Thom. Some thoughts:

    Generally, we all have a need to connect or as Dr. Brené Brown says, “Connection is why we’re here; it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about.”


    Also, cooperation and collaboration are not the same thing, collaboration happens around some kind of plan or structure, while cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate:


    Finally, I agree with Donald Clark that Maslow’s hierarchy is not a hierarchy, it wasn’t tested and it’s wrong:


    I think there are many reasons people cooperate and communicate, but the core is that we are social animals.


  6. Thom Kearney says:

    Received this contribution via twitter:
    minutrition Nov 13, 4:33pm via TweetDeck

    Collaboration is formal http://bit.ly/ahsvS3 @hjarche http://ow.ly/39iRH #ty @thomkearney @DBast


  7. Thom Kearney says:

    I wonder if the Bees have the answer?

    We have been having a discussion on twitter about how collaboration is difficult because of the inability of people and organizations to share power, and I came across this post at HBR http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/11/the_five_habits_of_highly_effe.html,

    Also I can’t help thinking that this is relevant Five Cultural Trends Shaping Communications and Public Service : http://sectorpublic.com/2010/10/five-cultural-trends-shaping-communications-and-public-service/ , particularly the last couple of points, maybe a cultural shift that will help with the power issue?


  8. Thom Kearney says:

    Here I am commenting on my own post again. Using it as a KM tool. I never did use that slide, the conversation around it changed my direction a little, and I want to thank those that help.
    Here is some of the twitter conversation.

    Harold Jarche
    hjarche Harold Jarche
    @minutrition so true, Paul @thomkearney
    14 Nov Favorite Retweet Reply
    Paul McConaughy
    minutrition Paul McConaughy
    @thomkearney @hjarche Collaboration, although commonly identified, is rare. Neither people or orgs are good at shared power.
    14 Nov Favorite Retweet Reply
    Paul McConaughy
    minutrition Paul McConaughy
    Collaboration is formal http://bit.ly/ahsvS3 @hjarche http://ow.ly/39iRH #ty @thomkearney @dbast
    13 Nov Favorite Retweet Reply
    Harold Jarche
    hjarche Harold Jarche
    comment posted | @hjarche would love to hear your thoughts on this conversation http://ow.ly/39iRH #ty @thomkearney @dbast
    13 Nov Favorite Retweet Reply


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