Training Magazine: Collaboration and the Logic Model

| By TMA World

When clients say, “We want to increase collaboration across our organization,” I usually ask, “What do you mean?”  That question often puzzles them because it’s assumed the meaning of collaboration is self-evident (rather like ‘these truths’ in the American constitution). I know that one of the capabilities we need to develop in our relativistic, post-modern world is a tolerance for ambiguity, but that needs to be counterbalanced with a passion for clarity.  Clarity doesn’t mean certainty.  As Patrick Lencioni says in his book ‘The Five Temptations of a CEO’, there are always things that will be uncertain, but we can still be clear in how we communicate about them. (1)  

Here is a simple – and what hopefully will become a clear way – of looking at collaboration: collaboration is creating value together.  

Let me break that down:  

Creating: ‘Something’ exists after collaboration that wasn’t there before (and so it’s not a simple exchange of information).  The created ‘something’ could be as tangible as a product, or as intangible as an idea, a way of thinking, or an experience. 

Value: The ‘something’ has worth to someone – a few or many.  “Worth” is subjective, but in business is usually measured in objective terms, e.g., profit, market share, customer satisfaction, productivity.  

Together means we are not doing this alone.  We are amplifying our individual capabilities to produce something of value that we could not have created separately.  The output is greater than the sum of our individual contributions, e.g. knowledge, skills, resources.

Fundamentally, there are two types of collaboration: Structured and Emergent. (2)

Structured collaboration is formal and organized.  It is clearly defined in terms of desired outcome, membership, tasks, roles, rules, scope, timeframes, technologies, and standard processes.  Virtual project teams (usually having some degree of face-to-face interaction) are usually of the structured type. The collaboration is initiated by a manager responsible for overcoming a complex challenge or profiting from a business opportunity.  In today’s organizations, these collaborations are often of strategic importance, are longer-term, and cross many business, functional, and geographic boundaries.  They can also be set up between different organizations in different industries, e.g. L’Oreal and Renault (for the concept ZOE Spa Car). 

Emergent collaboration is informal, unstructured and flexible. While there might be some guidelines and best practices, the collaboration is largely self-initiated and free-form; there are no strict rules.  The typical challenges are tactical, and time is short.  The collaboration is ‘emergent’ because the participants, the processes, tasks, and outcomes are variable – they emerge as the collaboration progresses. Emergent collaboration is usually associated with the use of tools like social networks.  

One useful tool, particularly for structured collaboration, is a Logic Model and the graphical Results Chain.  The concept was developed in the 1970s and has mostly been used by governments, foundations, and non-profits for the planning, implementation and evaluation of programs.   The Results Chain is a simple graphic mapping out the intended pathway to intended results (it is sometimes called a Cause-Effect or Causal Chain).  Here is one version:



Situation & Priorities: An understanding of the contextual factors and needs that should influence the design, development, and execution of the collaboration.  For example, a company needs to increase innovation in the business because competitors are charging ahead with new and attractive products and services.  To increase innovation, the company needs to leverage its global talent more effectively, and to do that it needs to increase collaboration across business and geographical borders.  A strategic priority, therefore, is to build collaboration skills through training.   

Inputs: These are everything we need to achieve the purpose of our collaboration, e.g. financial investment, people, technical expertise, communication and collaboration technologies.  

An important input for complex and often distributed collaborative projects would be a Collaboration Charter. This Charter would act as a central reference point for critical information: purpose, expected outputs/outcomes/impacts (see below), membership, roles and responsibilities, decision making processes, norms, and operating agreements. 

Activities: These are the actions, jobs, tasks, processes designed to fulfill the purpose of the collaboration.  

Outputs: These are the direct tangible and intangible products and services resulting from the activities, e.g. training materials.

Outcomes: While outputs are the actual products and services produced, outcomes are the short- and medium-term benefits/changes resulting from the collaboration, e.g. the development of a skilled population across the organization able to perform in current and future collaborative projects.

Impacts: These are the longer-term strategic benefits/changes to the wider environment, e.g. growth of a robust collaborative culture across the organization that increases competitiveness through faster innovation.

Embedded in the chain is what is called your theory of change.  If things go wrong, you can look at your implementation (e.g. insufficient or misplaced resources), but also your underlying theory – “If we start with these (A) inputs and (B) activities, to deliver (C) outputs, in (D) settings, we will then produce (E) outcomes, which will ultimately contribute to (F) impacts.  Did your theory hold up?  If not, where did it fail?

Utilizing the logic model enables those who are collaborating to more fully articulate what is in their heads – their assumptions, mental models, expectations.  In that way, it acts as a vehicle for transparency – the lack of which is the number one killer of virtual collaborations.      

Someone could say, “Isn’t this too rigid and linear for collaborating in today’s turbulent environment in which agility is mission-critical?”  A good argument could be made for that point of view, but borderless collaboration (which I often talk about) is not synonymous with unstructured, free-for-all collaboration.  Quantitative and qualitative indicators can be identified for each step along the results chain, and these can identify challenges as they emerge.  Emergent collaboration can be integrated into the structured process to support evolution of the collaboration.  

Like any framework, a Logic Model/Results Chain can be a cage or a garden.  Both are structured spaces, but  . . . what a difference.   

(1) The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni, Jossey-Bass, 1998 

(2) Structured vs. Emergent Collaboration (Parts 1 & 2) by Larry Hawes, Central Desktop & Dow Brook Advisory Services, 2011 


Terence Brake

Director, Learning & Innovation, TMA World