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Not all Collaboration is Created Equal

Adaptive Execution / 21 Oct 2015 / By Matt Ballantine

My work over recent weeks looking at The Sharing Organization – Avoiding the Pitfalls of Enterprise Collaboration Initiatives has made it clear that not all collaboration is created equal.  As a term, ‘collaboration’ is used liberally both within the technology industry to denote an increasingly expansive class of software product, but also to mean a whole breadth of activities within organizations linked to teams and team working.

Unpicking that language, that loaded term, has been a large part of the research so far.  It’s easy to use such words as labels to issues about which we intend to do very little.

One of the first things that has become obvious from interviews thus far is that collaborative activity within organizations spans across systems that are well outside the boundaries of what IT groups might call ‘collaboration’.  An ERP system allows people to collaborate, as does a CRM.

There is, though, a continuum of collaborative style that spans from the very formal to the very loose.  Structured workgroups, where people might be working together but might not feel that they are necessarily actively cooperating, have been the driving force behind three centuries of industrialization.  They are the way in which organizations have traditionally driven optimization at scale.

At the other end, loose networks and communities are commonly seen as a prerequisite for organizations to be able to innovate effectively.  Enterprise social networks seem better served (although not exclusively) to help deliver these forms of cooperative activity, but it seems rare that introducing the technology makes innovation ‘just happen’.

In a world where collaborative technologies were primarily delivered in-house, success measures for such projects were often IT hygiene (or even vanity) metrics around cost effectiveness of infrastructure, coupled with ‘time saved in the workforce’-type equations.  With Cloud being the de facto platform for emerging new products, and the price of free being the entry point, organizations run the risk of inertia through multiple initiatives where old measures no longer apply. 

However, it’s also becoming clear that ‘one tool for all’ isn’t necessarily the route to success with collaborative technologies either.  Although a single platform might provide all the functionality required across an enterprise, the way those functions are packaged in particular solutions aimed at different collaborative activities might be the key to unlocking better behaviour change. 

As I continue to talk with people in all sorts of organizations across the globe, the task now is to turn this learning into a repeatable framework to help organizations make some sense of these broad fields, and to become much more focused in how technology can be delivered to make an impact. 

If you would like to be a part of this research, please contact me at: 
matt.ballantine@leadingedgeforum.com.

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