Collaboration or Contribution?

A man should not be appointed
into a managerial position if his vision
focuses on people’s weaknesses
rather than on their strengths
(Peter Drucker)

For many years in the work force I have heard these two expressions: collaboration and contribution, sometimes taken mistakenly one for the other.

During a project’s meeting, the Project Manager repeatedly spoke of collaboration, and at times of contribution, none of the team members were expressing the curiosity to ask whether one meant the other. So I did, I did ask the 2 cents question about the definition of these words, whether these were the same, etc. The PM thought I was making some kind of show-off, I don’t know maybe she thought I wanted to drive the audience into a semantic discussion!

The answer came very swiftly: “Michel, to make it short and sweet, these words are similar, there is no point to spend more time on that, let’s move to more important topics!”

Ahh! Dear timeline, beloved milestones, worshiped budget, what humans can do for your full satisfaction! Well, I did not want to engage into a byzantine useless discussion, I took a note for the future.

When I registered for MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) the professor who drove the course was discussing about the actual human relations at work. She explained the difference opposing (not often I Hope) management and teams working on various mandates. In fact she was saying that employees, in particular those who used social networks, did expect from their managers to grant them the opportunity to contribute to the project, where the lead asked them to contribute and then report all their findings to him and send the report to the upper management! The point was clear, at least to me! She was stressing to the “recognition” question! who gets the benefit of the delivered work at final!

It also allowed me to compare and see where in real life examples how people behaved towards a collaborative oriented managers from a contribution driven person.

We are facing a situation that goes beyond the semantic definition of words, we do face a social behaviour at work. Accepting an employment offer is in a way similar to a contract agreement, or a business contract, where the salary is simply part of the deal, it cannot in anyway be considered as a reward or a deserved compensation (if you work well I’ll give your wages!).

Most of my working life, I have been a consultant, I always felt I was contributing to the team’s activities, and when we faced challenges nobody would back-off and say it wasn’t his or her duty, which was not always the case when I joined the more structured corporate employment. Often noting that people would keep silent and stare at the team lead or manager when things needed to be fixed. People’s care and personal engagement to contribute were at minimal level unfortunately.

The notion of contribution is a legitimate human emotion: the feeling of accomplishment. From the well-established culture of social networks, one of the things that people started learning, and let’s admit it for some, enjoying this exposure to the rest of the world (Facebook for example) people write or comment a post, express their opinion and know pretty much well that their words are circulating across continents! They discover the meaning of contributing even f it is for personal and non-business purposes.

The same people would expect this nature of engagement and their motivation to be possible at work. One of the positive things I noticed from real situations, was that this mindset of thinking was also engaging people to take, very naturally, responsibility of actions, because they were given the sense of contribution and not asked to do things, they felt equal partners within the team ad towards management, they also felt more naturally accountable to the wellbeing of their team’s collective work!

00 Contribution
Image courtesy:

I was designated as mentor for two new hires in order to make sure they were having a clear understanding about their position, their roles and discuss with them about the company’s culture.

I wanted them to be at the front line of their own discoveries, so one of the two new hire came one day saying she met a senior employee with whom she shared about herself, being a new hire, and wishing to discover more about the company’s values and culture. She came with an answer that really gave me true food for thoughts. The senior said:

The Company’s culture is us, you and me and all the people working for the company. And if you want to know why, well just imagine when we deliver a major project to a client, how big is our pride of having contributed to the success of such project, we are all involved to make the success happen, and if we fail it is all of us who failed! That is what I would call the Company’s culture!

Let us step back a little bit and take a peak to the schooling years of every person! If the culture of contribution is provided and encouraged during these years, there are lots of chances that it will provide generations of employees and managers pretty well oriented to such culture. Collaboration or contribution may define as well the behaviour of employees towards their employers.

I do not think there is something wrong about collaboration, simply it has to mature and move to a better level of treating people’s values. It is, to my perception and from past experiences, a win-win situation for both, making more successes for a better good of people!

Michel – December 3rd, 2014

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