We were recently talking with a colleague who was saying that her organization was putting energy and resources into creating collaboration among various departments.  We asked if the organization was also talking about and putting resources toward engagement.  She thought for a moment then asked us to explain the difference.

When we use the word collaboration, typically we are describing an action or a culture in which people work together on major efforts and initiatives to create innovative approaches to tactical success.  When we use the word engagement, we are describing an organization of people who know and care about the mission and vision and who feel personally involved (and engaged) in driving the organization toward the mission.  

It may seem like a subtle difference but it’s an important one, so let us give you an example of the difference as we often see it played out:

We were working with an organization of 5,000 people.  In that organization, there was considerable collaboration.  The marketing department worked closely with product development to identify products for the upcoming year; the operations team worked with IT to ensure smooth internal communications; and the sales people worked closely with logistics to create cost savings.  They were proud of their work and had made good progress on their initiatives.  But, if you asked them if they felt they could influence key leaders, that their individual voice mattered, and that they could count on their leaders to really use their input, they would say “no.”

The difference is that when there is engagement across the organization, there is a greater sense of ownership and influence; individuals can see that their work contributes to the success of the organization, and they feel that they, personally, matter.

Engagement creates an advantage whether at work or at home.  For instance, if you collaborate with your son or daughter on a project, the project may be more fun and it may get done more quickly.  But, if you engage your kids in making decisions about the project, or in family opportunities or concerns that impact their lives, they get personally invested in the outcome and are more likely to think strategically about a favorable outcome.  Even young children are more effective in their lives when you allow them to weigh in (appropriately) on what time to eat, when to work on schoolwork, and what to wear because they will feel more engaged and committed to the outcome.

We invite you this week to spend some time thinking about your work or family life and see if you can spot the difference between those times you are working collaboratively and those times when you and those you are with are truly engaged.  Next week, we will share with you our simple but profoundly powerful Engagement Spiral© so that you can create a culture of engagement wherever you go.