Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process
The success of collaboration can be measured on a few related dimensions:
1. Process efficiency: Is the process productive relative to the amount of time and effort exerted, or are parties wasting time, effort, or resources?
2. Outcome value: To what degree does the outcome satisfy the interests and concerns of each party?
3. Relationship quality: To what extent can parties discuss differences productively now and into the future? Is there a supportive atmosphere conducive to innovation, or do parties fear suggesting good ideas and criticizing bad ones?
These three measures are not equally important in every collaboration; the purpose of the interaction matters. For example, as a couple jointly decides which restaurant to go to for their weekly “date night,” the quality of their relationship may take priority over the outcome value (i.e., which eatery they choose). But on the spouse’s birthday, the outcome value may gain in importance. In international negotiations, too, the importance of these measures varies. A state leader may care deeply about relations with foreign partners, but when she has only one month left in office, she may prioritize execution of policy objectives (outcome value) over cultivation of affiliations (relationship quality).
Several barriers hinder the success of collaboration. First, stakeholders may lack political will to collaborate or to commit to a particular outcome; the incentives for not collaborating outweigh the benefits of working together. Second, parties may lack negotiation skills such as the ability to listen to alternative views, to discover shared and diverging interests, and to invent options for mutual gain, leading to an inefficient process and a non-optimal outcome. Third, parties may adopt an adversarial mindset that views collaboration as a zero-sum competition, producing an efficient process but a value-inferior outcome and damaged relations.