Optimal Collaboration: A Three-Tiered Process

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.


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About the Author

Daniel ShapiroDaniel Shapiro: Founder and Director, Harvard International Negotiation Program Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School/McLean HospitalAffiliate faculty, Program on Negotiation Daniel Shapiro teaches a highly evaluated course on negotiation at Harvard College; instructs psychology interns at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital; and leads executive education sessions at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital. He also has served on the faculty at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Named one of the top 15 professors at Harvard University, Shapiro specializes in practice-based research—building theory and testing it in real-world contexts. He has launched successful conflict resolution initiatives in the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia, and for three years chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Conflict Resolution. Focusing extensively on the emotional and identity-based dimensions of negotiation and conflict resolution, Shapiro led the initiative to create the world’s first Global Curriculum on Conflict Management for senior policymakers as well as a conflict management curriculum that now reaches one million youth across more than 20 countries. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Psychological Association’s Early Career Award and the Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award. In May of 2019, Shapiro was named Harvard’s Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the oldest of the teaching awards given out by the Undergraduate Council.

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