The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines collaboration as a noun “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.” Paraphrased, collaboration enables individuals to work together to achieve a defined and common business practice. Simple, right? Not at all. The challenge becomes the ability for people to work closely and avoid the interference of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and differing opinions. Collaboration is “all about people.” I believe it is largely about listening, finding common ground and finding a way to achieve mutual business benefits. It may be more of a challenge with clients since their interests must be served first and foremost. This is especially acute when serving as the owner’s representative on complex mega-programs.

So, how is collaboration achieved? Through open and honest communications, lots of listening, feedback, alignment, relationship-building, mutual respect, trust and the achievement of mutual benefits and serving the client.

This can be difficult, and there are bumps along the way, but strong relationships will weather the storm and allow collaboration to flourish for the greater good. In fact, as relationships build it should be agreed upon that the relationship will be retained regardless of  disagreements. Although difficult to achieve,  it is very possible if all parties really want it.

While collaboration can and should occur between all people, its roles continue to shift between the public and private sectors. For example, as the digital revolution continues, it is unlikely that the public sector is sufficiently nimble enough to cost-effectively manage these rapid changes. The private sector is much better suited. Conversely, it is likely that the construction industry will continue its traditional construction role but with increasing use of machine control and other digital efficiencies.

In the main, the public sector, as the owner, may increasingly manage the transportation system while the private sector may increasingly be responsible for delivery of products and services. This evolution has already begun in such places as the Oregon Department of Transportation where a private-sector joint venture delivered a long-duration, complex mega-program to repair or replace hundreds of Oregon bridges. Similar programs have been undertaken in Missouri, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

– Helen Keller