Of Monoliths and Minis (Part 2): Collaboration & Coordination (not the same)

Ookay then … in the last post I kept referring to collaboration and coordination tools and platforms. One of the challenges is that these are not the same. They do not have the same goal … and they operate quite differently among and between groups or teams.  But a lot of folks I interact with use these terms (and their concepts) interchangeably.  Yet, they’re not …

I’ll try to explain my meaning using examples from when I was a composer and music director for several theaters in our Nation’s Capital … rather than keeping it in the ‘learning design’ … (by the way – it was my work as a music director for theater companies and productions that got me intrigued about how people learn … ) … I find a lot of parallels between my work in the professional theater and my work today as an instructional designer … Okay … my thoughts:


Coordination means that we’re all on the same page … the team members all have the most recent schedule, task lists, etc. It is often a top-down approach … a project manager distributes the plan to the team members, each one has tasks to complete and deliverables to develop. It’s an org chart approach in that it is directive …

Nothing wrong with this approach … hey! I work this way all the time … and it is absolutely necessary – otherwise no work would get done.  But coordination is not the same thing as collaboration.


When preparing a company of actors or some music or a scene for its eventual performance on stage … coordination ruled supreme.  We had a delivery date (opening night … and hopefully beyond that, if the critics and audiences were kind).  The show was written … save for all those rewrites that happen with new works … the cast was assembled.  Our focus was on getting everyone to the same vision and performance standard. 

We sometimes entertained collaborative conversations and such during rehearsals … particularly for new works preparing for their premiere.  Yet, the vast majority of our time, energy, talent and money went to coordinating everything for opening night.

Coordination is about putting all the pieces together to execute the vision.


Collaboration means that we discover new ways of thinking and doing stuff … the team members learn what the others are passionate about … it’s ‘give and take’ where anyone’s ideas are up for investigation or pursuit.  Bring a group of people together who are interested – deeply, passionately interested – in something … each person is expert (nearly enough) in one aspect or discipline … or, heck! they just have real passion.


Collaboration also involves (at least from my experience) failure.  Coordination does not … in fact, if a project team were to fail in its coordination then my company’s revenue would be negatively affected.

But there are many instances where I’ve worked in collaboration with folks … an idea was pursued cuz’ it seemed to be a really really good idea at the time … and BLAM! we hit a brick wall or we fall down in glorious failure … and  (and here’s the key) we brush the dirt off – “well, we know that that’s not the best choice here” – and try again.


Working with an improvisation company, we’d work out a run-down of the theme for that day’s performance.  In the process all of us would try out different ideas … some ideas were eventually embraced, while others were discarded (failure).

Collaboration was king in these situations … relying on each other’s particular area of expertise – physicality, musicianship, directing, etc. 

Or when writing the music and lyrics for a show, the playwright and I would meet – discuss – argue – try different things out – run it by the producer and director – argue some more … oftentimes changing our original idea so it would work better in context of the entire show.

Collaboration is, then, finding the pieces that might fit together.


About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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