The pyramid of collaborative language 

A new language for collaboration


Flat hierarchies, redefined leadership models and wicked problems: business partnerships face several challenges when working together. What’s needed is a new language of collaboration. 

Is it possible that today we are operating in a new economy, one in which collaboration is inevitable? We believe there are three trends that foster the momentum leading to collaboration among organisations from for-profit, not-profit, and government sectors. 

First, we are interconnected through wicked problems. These are the types of problems that demand innovation and can morph into related problems. Such is the case with environmental problems like water shortages: how will the agricultural, food or beverage industries be sustainable without addressing water issues? Consider educational problems that can have devastating effects on our workforce and organisational bottom lines: how can organisations be competitive without prepared workers? Wicked problems demand creative thinking from the best and brightest from all sectors and stakeholders of a working society. 

Adding to the momentum of collaboration are the internal needs of organisations to innovate and capture ideas and energy that might be previously slowed in traditional hierarchies. Organisational structures are in the midst of change. Leadership is being redefined as having the ability to work with a range of stakeholders in and outside of a single organisation. Cutting edge organisations are adopting flattened hierarchies and collaborative mindsets to harness their talent. 

Which leads to the third contributor towards collaboration in and amongst organisations – a ready workforce. Younger generations of workers may be the most collaborative-ready workers yet. They are comfortable with technologies that ease the difficulties of collaborating across organisations and indeed continents. They are known to have had close relationships with parents and other authorities in their life, cultivating a worldview of flattened power relationships. In other words, they eschew hierarchies anyway, and hierarchies are problematic for collaboration. Finally, they thrive on connection, which is at the heart of collaborating.

Renee Guarriello Heath

Renee Guarriello Heath is a senior Lecturer at University of Hampshire. She is a scholar, writer, and lecturer in the area of organisational communication. She specialises in collaboration, dialogue, and intergenerational conflict around work-life balance. Dr. Heath’s work has been featured numerous leading journals. Her new book Interorganisational Collaboration (with Matt Isbell) articulates the ethics and communication skills needed to collaborate in organisational partnerships across industries.

Matthew Isbell

Matthew Isbell is a professor at Boise State University. His research interests are in collaboration, nonprofit organisations, and health program implementation. As an applied scholar, Dr. Isbell works with many at-risk populations around the topics of nutrition and infant development. He has worked with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programme in both Texas and New Hampshire. His work has been published in many top journals. He is the co-author of Interorganisational Collaboration: Complexity, Ethics, and Communication. Dr. Isbell teaches classes on non-profit organisations, inter-organisational collaboration and organisational communication.