No one can argue that collaboration is bad, at least, unless too much activity in which collaboration takes place ends up negatively affecting the mission. So, in general, we can say collaboration is a good thing. It is often referred to as a best practice, and I only introduce it to think more deeply about best practices. Best practices, especially but not limited to those involving collaboration, cooperation, and boundary spanning, pose two interrelated, complex organizational dilemmas that usually make it difficult for best practices to be successfully transferred and adopted.
The first dilemma begins with the recognition that everyone, pretty much, will agree about the goodness of adopting a best practice. Usually best practices are desired because they do not exist in your organization. They are things you want because they do not exist for you, and they are deemed relevant to solving a problem. Because the best practice does not exist in your organization—however you define “your organization”—almost no one has the experience and knowledge or know-how to do it. If you had it, you would.
The second dilemma is that best practices are developed within highly contextualized factors, which doubles down on the reason why the transfer of best practices is so difficult. Not only does one have to know how to lead and operate using the best practice—say, for example, collaboration—in an organizational environment, but one needs to fight for introducing a foreign best practice (collaboration, in this example) within the unique constraints of the your organization, which is the receiving organization, because your unique organizational agendas, personal agendas, organizational cultures, hierarchical positioning, etc. are very different from the context of the originating organization from which the best practice was originally developed. Very few people understand these underlying dynamics or how to operate with them.
The logic and challenge for transferring best practices in government is the same as everyday situations. For example, the latest fad diet comes out. It is advertised to work but very few people can control and replicate the conditions in which successes have been achieved. What worked for the originator will likely not work for the one trying to replicate it, unless the conditions are also replicated.
The trick for success is not to use a blanket approach like the fad diet or the next fad best practice, but rather to understand your own conditions and what level of newness it will allow to enter into your system, and let new ideas or best practices gently grow within the local context, with or without intervention of the context.