Building a Truly Collaborative Enterprise

The benefits of having a highly collaborative enterprise is a given.  It’s not just the positive impact on business results like reduced time to market of products, their quality and improved customer satisfaction; the benefits also translates to better knowledge and people retention, workforce motivation and cohesiveness of the overall organization.  On the other hand, the challenges to ingrain the culture of collaboration within the organization are equally large, if not more.

The fundamental level of collaboration does happen in all enterprise.  People share content, files, e-mails, ideas, apps and whatever else is necessary to get the work done.  I call this collaboration by necessity.  This includes demonstration of collaborative behavior when ‘collaboration’ is mandated by the senior management.  Collaboration by choice is when people will proactively start on any task with a collaborative mindset in absence of any mandate, necessity or to fulfill any obligation. 

When thinking of creating a collaborative organization start with people centric approach instead of tools and technology.  Don’t be afraid to review and revamp the holy cows of annual performance reviews, rewards & recognitions and career promotions.  Identify the key areas where you would like to see more collaboration and remove any hurdles – process, workflow, budget and tools – that would be a hindrance.  Define a balanced scorecard that would give you an indication of the progress and not just motion.Collaboration.jpg

Tools and Technology

Ask any IT manager or a technologist about how to improve collaboration within the organization, they will come up with a list of tools and technologies that should be deployed that will guarantee improved collaboration.  A fancy looking dashboard will show how many groups have been created, documents and other content shared, comments posted, adoption rate and other indicators that, collectively, are expected to show how much of collaboration is happening within the organization.

As someone once said, “Do not confuse motion with progress.  A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make much progress”. The indicators and dashboard have to be developed that reflect the impact on business results.  Have we accelerated the design, development or some other process?  Has the day-1 quality of our product improved?  In order to track return on investment the dashboard has to include hard data that shows a clear and direct impact to business results; e.g. number of support calls dropped by 50% with new product launch compared to previous product launch.

Processes and Workflow

In most cases, when an organization selects tools and technologies for enabling collaboration they compare feature and functions.  In fact, I would go on a limb and say that there never is any mapping done to see if the selected tools will adapt to the processes and workflow of the organization.  It is usually assumed that management mandate, training and change management will encourage users to adapt to the tools instead of the other way around.

This assumption works only if the management is also willing to do away with the processes that are a hurdle to frictionless collaboration.  If the processes and workflow are not in sync with the tools, the extra burden of adapting to these tools will erode productivity of the workforce. Yes, there will be some productivity loss during the ramp up phase but in steady state, the collaboration tools and the organization processes should be in sync to be frictionless.


People and Incentives

While tools, technologies and processes enable or facilitate collaboration it is the people who actually collaborate.  Unfortunately, this fact usually comes as an after-thought to most of the organizational leaders.  On more than one occasion I have read and heard about the typical management chutzpah where they announce restructuring, cutbacks and layoffs on one hand as they ‘encourage’ the organization to become more collaborative and share knowledge on the other!

The other irony I see is that in most of the knowledge based industry, where collaboration is of paramount importance and can clearly create a differentiator, the incentives are stacked against it.  Individual performance is rewarded more than the team performance.  Deep expertise is touted more than collaborative results. Teams are scattered around the globe without any globalization strategy in place that is conducive to collaboration. Travel budgets are cut assuming that video conferencing can replace face-to-face highly interactive discussions and team building.  In short, the human and humane aspect is ignored with a faulty assumption that technology can bridge the gap.

Increasing collaboration within the organization is about culture shift, management & leadership and people empowerment supplemented with tools and technologies.  The strategy should be thought out at the highest possible level of the organization instead of driving it bottoms up.

This shift in mindset and behavior of the organization is complex and requires focused attention from the management.  It cannot happen overnight and, if ignored, will revert back to non-collaborative behavior very rapidly.

It can be done and rewards are all worth the effort!

Opinions expressed herein are my own and do not reflect that of my employer, Intel Corporation. My other posts can be read here and more about me is available on my website.