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Collaborate and collaborative relationships may seem similar on the surface, but there are some key differences that we've observed over our many years as a change consultants facilitating transformations.

Collaborate is often used to simply mean two or more people working together on a specific project or activity. The focus is usually short-term and goal-oriented. For example, two product managers collaborating to launch a new feature.

In contrast, collaborative relationships refer to ongoing connections between people that enable shared understanding, trust and psychological safety over time. They allow groups to navigate complex challenges together through a spirit of openness, empathy and mutual care, and mutual benefit—thos is part of the Shared Progress framework.

Let us share an example that illustrates the power of collaborative relationships versus mere collaboration. As a consultant, we once saw two departments that had a strained relationship due to competing priorities. Leaders would force collaboration on shared projects, but tension simmered under the surface.

When the heads of each department suffered personal losses in quick succession, something changed. They confided in and supported each other through the challenges. A sense of genuine friendship and care emerged that permeated their teams.

Soon people across both departments were connecting in new ways. They gave each other the benefit of doubt during conflicts. They spent less time protecting their turf and more time exploring creative solutions. Productivity rose and they learned to align priorities for mutual benefit.

This exemplifies how collaborative relationships transcend transactional collaboration. Through vulnerability and trust, we appreciate each other's humanity. We become invested in each other's wellbeing and fulfillment. The relationship becomes the fertile soil allowing new growth to emerge.

So in summary, collaboration is an activity while collaborative relationships are an ongoing interpersonal connection enabling shared purpose, mutual care and new possibilities. It's the difference between just working together and truly thriving together.

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