Are Connections Overshadowing Collaboration?

By July 31, 2013Creativity

We are hyper-connected today, and there are real metrics to showcase. Just look at the counts. Whether it is connections in LinkedIn, people in Google+ circles, followers in Twitter, or likes in Facebook, there are numbers to track. Dig below the surface though. Do we find collaboration in those connections?

It is a question I have been thinking about lately. We connect but do we collaborate? Does it matter? Can collaboration be tracked like connections?

Connections and Collaboration: Two by Two

Thinking through connections and collaboration sets itself up well for a two by two matrix review. It is a simple lens to peer through and look for some answers.

Are We Over-Connected and Under-Collaborating?

Let’s dive in and explore each quadrant.

Autonomous: When the number of connections are low along with collaboration, a person is acting, essentially, alone. It is a solo venture. The resources are within the reach of an individual as well as the ability to achieve the necessary results. Achievement can be realized in this mode but it may not happen as broadly or as quickly. One standing and working alone can be less effective than a well-working team.

Mutually Independent: Here, connections are many yet collaboration is low. When this occurs, it may look like a relay race. Batons are passed. Each does their part and then hands it off. An individual does their work and does it well. There is some interaction but individuals are not working together closely. It can be an effective way to get work done; it just may take more time and effort than in some other approaches.

Partner: When we drop over to a low number of connections yet high collaboration, this is a partnership. Two or three people working well together to pursue an initiative or achieve a goal. There are many effective partnerships, especially in niche areas. In smaller markets or defined segments, collaboratively working with a few people can make a difference quickly and effectively. Expanding outside the defined area may be challenging in this mode, as more people will need to be involved to gain greater momentum and a broader reach.

Collaboratively Engaged: When there are a high number of connections and high level of collaboration taking place, much can be accomplished but much needs to be coordinated. To achieve big results and broad reach, more people need to be working well together – collaboratively, interdependently, and fully engaged. Social technologies can support both collaboration and coordination efforts. An added ingredient is clarity – purpose, mission, and responsibilities. Clarity is a must in collaborative working relationships, just as trust is.

Trust Intersects

Through each quadrant, trust plays a key role.

  • Working autonomously requires high self-trust.
  • Working mutually interdependently requires a hearty trust of others to empower their independent work, enabling smooth and confident hand-offs.
  • Working in a partnership requires joined trust in your partner – thoroughly and completely.
  • Working collaboratively requires extraordinary trust to keep speed of pace in achieving milestones and realizing the ultimate mission and goals.

This breakdown is thinking-in-process.

Considering connections and collaboration is interesting in a social world, and we need to keep collaboration front-and-center in order to make a difference in what we are doing. Numbers by themselves don’t mean too much in the end. Collaborative results carry more meaning when done right.

Increasing our focus on collaboration may be more important than focusing on the number of connections made.

What are your thoughts about connections and collaboration? Does one feed off another? How do we prevent over-connectedness and under-collaboration?


Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • […] we becoming so connected that we have stopped collaborating? John Mertz over at The Thin Difference takes a look at this idea and puts forward some food for thought. You are you engaged, sure, but are you […]

  • […] Are Connections Overshadowing Collaboration? by Jon Mertz. Key quote: “An added ingredient is clarity – purpose, mission, and responsibilities. Clarity is a must in collaborative working relationships, just as trust is.” […]

  • Great 2×2 Jon. To answer your question about connections and collaboration, I think we need to start with the question of what the goals and objectives are. Where someone’s role involves a message to share broadly (e.g., PR), having many connections and little collaboration may be appropriate. In other cases, perhaps a small team of R&D scientists, it may be optimal for them to stay in their small, close-knit creative group. Otherwise, I agree that it’s really easy to be over-connected and under-collaborative. Without being careful, meetings tend to fall into this category, which ends up chewing a lot of people’s time unproductively. Thanks for getting us thinking here, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      A great perspective, Alice. Knowing your goals and objectives is key and a great point about selecting the right approach. It will vary by objective so knowing what you want to accomplish will assist dropping in the right quadrant. Really appreciate your insights and additions to the conversation. Thanks for collaborating! Jon

  • Susan Silver says:

    I think about this,because I always prefer collaborative environments. I think that collaboration can only work when their is an alignment of values between all people involved. So, people might all be competing but they all value the competition. Something like that. It isn’t just a shared vision. Sometimes we just want to do the part that makes us happiest and let others take care of the rest. But if we aren’t working on something that we value then no work can be done.

    I also realized this year that timing is very important. Collaboration works poorly when everyone is already over-worked. I’ve learned to let go of opportunities.

    In terms of connections and collaboration. I don’t know how much connections matter as much as personal self-direction. Are you a seeker of opportunity or are you passive? If you are actively looking than your network empowers you to connect, but is not always necessary. If you are passive, you might need many connections so that someone passes on information to you or reaches out to you for your knowledge.

    • Jon M says:

      Wow, so many great points, Susan! I agree completely on the over-work state. If someone is stretched too much, then they will likely be less willing to collaborate.

      I also like the thought behind “self-direction.” It goes to mindset, which is vital.

      Again so many great points and the most important one may be play where you are the happiest. It goes to purpose.

      Really appreciate your great points! Thank you. Jon

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Jon,

    This was a wonderful post and I loved the model you shared.

    I find the areas on collaborations and connections fascinating. My view is that collaboration is so important to get tasks in a way where the outputs are win win situations for all the partners. However, in order to develop such partnerships, which are based on trust, we need to be proactive and reach out to people to make connections.

    Thank you.

    • Jon M says:

      Agree, Hiten. There needs to be a proactive spirit to reach out and potentially find that common ground to collaborate on an important activity or initiative. Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation! Jon

  • pankaj says:

    Nice conceptualization. I hadn’t really thought about this, but connections might not always lead to collaboration. For example, we don’t even talk to most of the people on our Facebook list.

  • Dan Oestreich says:

    A beautiful model, Jon, and great discussion.

    I think of collaboration as something based on a decision to work together. Because it can involve working to transform differences into a source of synergy, there’s an implicit choice. How much do I want to be involved with this person or these people? Are these people I can be vulnerable with? Will we get stuck? In this context, connection feels more like the ramp leading toward POSSIBLE collaboration. And the ramp extends from more casual forms of collaboration to deeper forms (e.g., let’s write a book together, let’s remodel the kitchen) that require genuine friendship to actually pull off well. In this sense, real collaboration involves some level of intimacy. Connectedness represents the field from which we make choices about with whom want to more deeply share our work and our lives.

    • Jon M says:

      A great perspective, Dan. The role of choice is an interesting one. We do make deliberative choices on who to collaborate with as well as how. With the number of connections increasing, we have more choices to select from and, maybe, greater confusion on who may be the best fit for a specific collaborative project.

      The points you added are wonderful and very relevant and applicable to making collaboration more meaningful and workable. Thank you! Jon

  • Terri Klass says:

    Terrific post, Jon!
    Connections and collaboration need to go hand in hand for truly great performance. Of course, at the heart of real collaboration, there needs to be a trusting work relationship and strong leadership . That’s the kicker and often, that is what prevents true engagement and partnering.
    When leadership is able to be clear, there is a higher probability of forming engagement and the result is honest collaboration. Clear role definition as well as distinct responsibilities can create more trusting and collaborative environments. Terri

    • Jon M says:

      Great points, Terri. Clear role definitions make a huge difference along with clear purpose and goals. Having clarity really empowers trust. It is amazing what can be done when clarity and trust are aligned fully! Thank you. Jon

  • Samantha Hall says:

    Excellent post John.

    Trust matters. Without a foundation of genuine trust in our relationships, we just don’t get very far. When there is a foundation of genuine trust, we have more confidence that what we are building is on a solid foundation.

    In regards to numbers, I wholeheartedly agree. When it comes to connections/relationships, quantity is not as important as quality. It takes time to build trust and doesn’t happen over night. If we try to build too many connections at once, we lose out on investing the time it takes to build trust and turn an acquaintance into a genuinely collaborative connection and relationship.

    Resonating visions, values, and goals also play a key part in this. While it is true that we can learn from anyone, not everyone will have the same vision and values that would allow a potential connection to deepen into a more collaborative relationship.

    Time is another important factor. When we spread ourselves too thin, we can’t invest the quality time it takes to build trust with the people that COULD become partners and collaborators. So it does require some intuitive juggling and discernment to help us decide where to invest time and with who.

    Without trust, we may have a large quantity of connections but we sacrifice on quality.

    Thanks for sharing another great post. Wonderful perspective and insights.

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks so much, Samantha, for your insights and comments. Trust needs to be at the center to make everything work right. And, there is such a danger of spreading ourselves too thin. Maybe the goal should be to use our connections to build a broad, diverse perspective and then engage with trusted advisors to collaborate on initiatives that add depth to our actions and thoughts.

      Really like the points you made. Thank you for joining in the conversation! Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Counting numbers, especially in the social world, as if they matter without context for real connection / collaboration is kind of silly. I agree with you, Jon – the only way we move from a number in the crowd to a real person and working in true partnership . collaboration… is trust.

  • Dan Kirsch says:

    Appreciate the nice visual presentation of that relationship between connectivity and collaboration, one that I’m well familiar with. My own discussion of yours:

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you for your comments, Dan. I agree. An added element needed in this mix is the quality of the connections. Quality is required, especially if collaboration is to work productively and effectively. Your additions to the conversation are greatly appreciated and thanks for sharing them here and on Jon

  • Another post that I’ll be sharing with my colleagues at Bates. We’ve been talking a lot about how our students are hyper-connected – never without their phones and other devices, an on them constantly – and yet seem to have lost many notions of community. Even my cohort (right on the edge between Gen X and millennial) didn’t learn much about collaboration, but we were also short on connections because social media hadn’t quite appeared when we were in college. As a result, my peers and I tend to be rather autonomous and I think many millennials are indeed mutually independent. Both approaches are useful and necessary, as you note, but when we’re missing collaborative engagement, this could have ramifications for the work world, interpersonal relationships, etc. This matrix definitely helps me understand the various modes of being. Thank you for the thought-provoking start to my morning!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank so much for your insights and comments on this topic, Rebecca. Part of my reason for thinking about this is a concern that we are putting effective collaboration at risk with all the connecting we are doing. Awareness of where we are and then how to move in another area is key.

      Your thoughts and perspective are greatly appreciated! Jon

  • Marquita Herald says:

    Very interesting article and observations Jon. I’ve been thinking about revisiting collaborations recently. The problem is I’ve had such bad experiences withe people not carrying their load of the partnership I’m hesitant about giving it another try. Still, you’ve raised some excellent points to think about. Thanks!

  • Joy Guthrie says:

    Interesting breakdown, Jon. What makes this more interesting is that you can be engaged in all of the 4 quadrants at the same time. It immediately brought to mind an organization I was part of in the late 90s/early 00’s. All of our work (across 170 projects) was broken down by specialty area which forced a collaboration to get anything done. There were high functioning and lower functioning teams in the organization (even teams containing the same exact people). Trust was absolutely a key factor, pivoting on other people’s perception of your ability to perform the specific task in that team or your level of expertise with the specific subject. Thought provoking! Enjoyed your post. Thank you.

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Joy, for sharing your experiences and insights. I agree that you can be engaged in all four quadrants as different initiatives may require different approaches. Your additions to the conversation are greatly appreciated! Jon

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