What is “Collaboration” and When is It Needed?



An exploration of collaboration in the context of the relationship model

by Mary Jane Yates

In this new world of online prayer groups and events, the number of relationships now available for those of us who have reliable internet and technology is growing exponentially.  With this growing sphere of connection, I am hearing more and more about the need to collaborate in planning inter-chapter events and/or in delivering online programs with other partner communities.  But what does “collaborate” really mean and what does it entail?

Defining ‘collaboration’ at first glance seems simple.  Most often used in the fields of business or academia, the word has its roots in the Latin term “to labour” and “with”.  So the simplest definition might be: Two or more people working together towards shared goals (1).  In practice, however, the word takes on many levels of meaning, a few of which are outlined below.

First, some people call it ‘collaboration’ when they are simply sharing information and talking with one another about mutual interests. But this type of relationship is more commonly known in business or academia as “networking” – what might be called the acquaintanceship level of relationship.  Another type of relationship is where people attend one another’s meetings or publicize their partner’s events, which is another step towards collaboration but still somewhat limited.  This level could be described as ‘cooperation’ – intimacy is growing, perhaps to the level of friendliness.  A third level of ‘collaboration’ is where partners actually participate in mutual planning and delivery of events, a level of partnership which requires each party to modify their own activities to benefit the whole. This approach clearly involves a deeper commitment but would more aptly be called “coordination” – a deepening level of friendship.  By comparison, “full collaboration” practically means that partners actually pool their resources and have equally shared power in decision-making with regards to planning and implementing any given initiative – a deepened level of intimacy and unity of relationship (1).

As you can see from these definitions, the decision to collaborate in the full sense of the word is not one to be taken lightly.  This is because it can take years to develop the kind of trust that is needed to be willing to share in both the risks and benefits of any given effort.  And to collaborate successfully there needs to be a clear process for communicating as well as a sense that the partnership will benefit both partners in a meaningful way.

So what does this mean for our attempts to collaborate with others in our Contemplative Outreach community or with those other communities with whom we have an interest in working? First of all, it’s important to remember that the primary ‘work’ we do in Contemplative Outreach is to commit to our own daily practice of Centering Prayer and to encourage others to do the same, both on their own and with others.  So in a sense, any time we sit down to pray, we are ‘co-labouring’ with everyone else in the whole human family (and indeed in all of creation!) towards our common goal of “furthering the knowledge and experience of God’s love in the consciousness of the human family” (Theological Principle #1).   So our starting point for thinking about collaboration is the fact that we already are collaborating in the full sense of the word when we commit our own personal time, resources, and efforts towards this primary task of sharing with others in the transformation of the world.

With this in the forefront, there may be times when more outward forms of collaboration are needed, especially in this age of Zoom when, at the very least, a more coordinated effort to share our Centering Prayer resources and events is possible.  So if your chapter and/or small group is thinking of reaching out to work with others in more intentional ways, here are some questions that might help you in deciding if this appropriate:

  • How might collaborating with ______(name of partner/s) enhance the efforts of my chapter and/or prayer group to share Centering Prayer and/or the teachings of Thomas Keating?
  • How might this collaboration benefit practitioners? Are there any downsides to practitioners in engaging collaboratively, i.e., are opportunities lost for ease of engagement, community, enrichment, support, etc.?
  • What level of trust do we currently have with this group? Do all involved seem willing to be transparent, to discern together, to thoughtfully engage with the logistics and considerations?
  • Do we have enough time to collaborate? Are we willing to take the time needed to communicate successfully with these partners?
  • Are we willing to (truly!) share the discernment and decision-making on how this event is planned and implemented?
  • Are we willing to share the resources needed to deliver and follow-up on this event as well as any income it generates?

Though not comprehensive by any means, I hope this brief exploration of collaboration and some of the factors involved will help us all in discerning how and when we can work more effectively with others in our efforts to sharing Centering Prayer and the transformative journey.  The challenges are real but if approached willingly, can lead us on the path of ever-deepening trust and humility.


(1) https://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/what-collaboration-really-means/

(2) https://preventionsolutions.edc.org/sites/default/files/attachments/Levels-of-Collaboration-508-Compliant.pdf