Is Collaboration in Events Overhyped?

Have you been striving for collaboration in your events but the results have let you down? You might not be the only one disenchanted with the process. Check out the dark side of too much collaboration.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” is a quote attributed to Henry Ford. Whether his pessimism about groupthink was justified at the time or not can be debated. But it seems science is now leaning towards this concept that collaboration does not make the weakest link stronger. It makes the group weaker.

But what about the events space? Collaboration is tantamount to engagement and most people under 35 enjoy working in collaborative atmospheres. So is collaboration a boon or a bane to events?

Is Collaboration in Events Overhyped?

The Benefits of Collaboration

Collaboration in events often takes on the form of crowdsourced options. Crowdsourcing involves attendees and engages them, catering to the most popular preferences and allowing them to design parts of the event. Crowdsourcing is often used in speaker selection, food, themes, and other areas. The benefits are many, such as:

  • Those who design an experience are more likely to support it.
  • Attendance numbers should be greater because you’re giving people what they want to see, hear, taste, and experience.
  • It offers the opportunity for new views to be heard.
  • It fits nicely into tech usage as there is plenty of collaborative software out there that can make contributing and voting lots of fun for the attendee.
  • Collaboration and crowdsourcing can occur from all parts of the globe, helping to build consensus among participants no matter where they live.
  • New attendees and veterans have equal input to design the event they want.

While some believe pure democracy in an event selection process doesn’t work, it’s also hard to ignore the engagement factor and personalization in collaboration. Plus, not all social scientists are in agreement about group limitations. Author of Collective Intelligence, and former Professor of Hypermedia at the University of Paris, Pierre Levy provides a historical analysis and path to the future that argues tomorrow’s economy will value interaction, not goods or information as those can be automated.

He calls upon government to  “…navigate the knowledge space. Building the knowledge space will mean acquiring the institutional, technical, and conceptual instruments needed to make information navigable, so that each of us is able to orient ourselves and recognize others on the basis of mutual interests, abilities, projects, means, and the identities within this new space.” This advice could easily apply to events too. He sees this shift into valued collaboration as pivotal as the Renaissance. But what makes this work truly visionary is the fact it was published in 1994.

One conference used a very similar idea in placing faith in their group’s ability to know what it wanted. They crowdsourced sessions at the conference itself. The morning was scheduled and as part of the morning events they asked attendees what they wanted to learn about. Attendees brainstormed ideas on post it notes. Then organizers collected the notes, grouped them into similar topics that could be combined sessions, and then scouted attendees on-site who could lead the afternoon sessions. Not only was it a good use of crowdsourcing, but the attendees loved the excitement in the unknown and putting things together under pressure, something most event planners thrive on.     

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Cons of Collaboration

Theoretically, collaboration sounds like a wonderful idea. Let the people choose. But as Lucilla said in the movie Gladiator:The mob is fickle…” plus the crowd doesn’t always know the possibilities. The crowd is not an event expert like you are. They may be choosing between A or B without realizing #1 is an option too.

In order to understand the downside of collaboration, it’s important to know that open collaboration comes with its own set of limitations. Collaboration is not just about crowdsourcing. It is often used in sessions as well.

“Work as a team to…”

This is difficult for introverts who prefer to plan and brainstorm on their own before sharing with a group. It also isolates top creatives who may feel self-conscious in a group setting where their idea is so different from everyone else’s. Team projects or interactions can also be limited by different work styles, personalities, and backgrounds.

In a recent study published in Applied Psychology, researchers found that top performers were often socially alienated by the underachievers. While that’s not likely to occur in your event session, it’s something to safeguard against by ensuring your moderator or session leader is aware of the possibilities. Social alienation would prohibit people from sharing complete knowledge and experience, thus inhibiting the learning of the group.

Collaboration can also fall apart when there are too many ‘cooks in the kitchen’. This idea speaks to the need for tiers in projects but several organizations are moving towards temporary lead positions and not permanent managers. Could this work in your sessions? Could you use a facilitator of sorts to begin conversation and then step back and let others lead or let the flow take the session into areas of natural interest to the audience?

One of the Hottest Trends in Events

Personalization is one of the hottest trends in events and to ignore that means potentially alienating your audience while other events are catering to them. That’s why several events have embraced a happy medium. SXSW uses crowdsourcing to select its speakers through its Panel Picker. However, they don’t use pure crowdsourcing. They employ a speaker selection committee to narrow down the options prior to crowd selection. This creates a nice balance between personalization and a broader knowledge of what’s available.

You can use this same methodology when selecting themes, food, panel topics, and more. Give options. Allow for choice.   

In Conclusion

Is collaboration in events good or bad? Does it bring out our best or doom us to unimaginative mediocrity? The answer lies in your audience and your ability to design effective use of collaboration. Just like anything else, collaboration for collaboration’s sake isn’t sound. But collaboration aimed at a higher purpose or goal in a supportive environment is a good way to involve your attendees and make them feel vested in your event.

Additional Resources on Collaboration in Events

Co-creation and Collaboration: Tricks and Tools for Event Planners
16 Inevitable Ways to Make Attendees Happy
Crowdsourcing Speakers
15 Ways to Tailor Event Education to Your Audience

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Julius Solaris
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