Collaboration Tip #1: To Collaborate or Not?

You and your boss don’t really collaborate. Neither do you and your employee, or you and your supplier. You might work collaboratively, but ultimately one of you has power and authority over the other. Real, substantive collaboration – getting people to cooperate without power and authority – takes a lot of work, and so you only want to collaborate on challenges that need it.

Most problems don’t require substantive collaboration. Ninety percent of daily problems can be solved individually or through power-and-authority relationships. So what kinds of problems need substantive collaboration? Adaptive problems.

Kind of Problem

Problem Definition


Locus of Work






Changing a light bulb.

Problem: Burned out bulb

Solution: Replace bulb

Locus of work: Someone with the authority to purchase/ replace a bulb

Technical and Adaptive


Requires learning

Authority and stakeholders

Treating chronic disease.

Problem: Disease state

Solution: Medical interventions (medicine, procedures, surgeries) & changes in patient mindsets, beliefs, and behaviors

Locus of work: Medical personnel, patients, families, communities

Adaptive Requires learning Requires learning Stakeholders


Problem: Multiple causes (poverty, unemployment, mental health)

Solutions: Multiple lacking consensus

Locus of work: Individuals and whole communities 

Adaptive problems are the tough, complex challenges we like to tackle at CollaborateUp. Adaptive problems have multiple possible causes and therefore multiple possible solutions, and solving them involves enrolling multiple stakeholders without the ease and benefit of pure power-and-authority relationships.

In the next blog of this series, we’ll get into our approach for tackling adaptive problems. Check back soon for Collaboration Tip #2: Falling in Love with Problems.

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“Even with a diverse set of stakeholders and a very limited timeframe, the CollaborateUp Formula allowed us cut through a complex set of issues and develop a concrete and pragmatic proposal for tackling a very tough problem. Richard Crespin is exactly what you want in a facilitator, someone able to bring people together to recognize their shared goals and the best ways to achieve them.” - Amit Ronen Director, George Washington University Solar Institute
Extremely practical and extremely easy to implement once you have an understanding of the steps and the formula and the requirements of the process. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
"Building up the capacity and capability of nonprofits to make a difference in the world is a core part of the Office Depot Foundation's mission. CollaborateUp had a really big impact on the nonprofits we support, giving them tools and insights they can use immediately." - Mary Wong
The course was great! Great value and great insights into collaborating with various partners in multiple situations. It really change my thought process and how I view situations with our clients and stakeholders. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
The course actually aids with more than just collaboration - it helps drive thinking into issue clarification, meeting handling and setting up, communicating with stakeholders. I loved it! - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
I soon discovered that it doesn’t really matter whether your introduction to CollaborateUp is through an issue solving workshop, or at an event as Richard brings all the chaos together with his savvy charm and good humour - the most important thing is that you get to engage and work with these great folks! My biggest take out over the past five years of being a part of their world – collaboration is a process and you’re not going to get very far unless you know what problem you’re all trying to solve together. The CollaborateUp framework helps by asking simple questions to help reveal the big answers. - Cate O’Kane, Founder, &co partnership consultancy
"The CollaborateUp Workshop gave our delegates a set of tools they can use immediately to collaborate more effectively across multiple departments and organizations." - Erika Lopez, Global Impact