The collaborative culture

  • A successful collaborative organization must create the right culture.

  • Technology allows working smarter and making wiser use of resources.

  • Social media can add openness, connectedness, and quantifiable interactions.

“Success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others,” writes Wharton professor and organizational psychology expert, Adam Grant. The principles of business collaboration championed by Grant and many others tell us that technology can play a major role in how we help others be their best.Real-time conferencing and telepresence are valuable tools for bringing far-flung colleagues and partners together to solve problems, but a collaborative enterprise needs more than technology.

Creating a culture of collaboration is far more important than choosing any single enabling technology. There is an overwhelming surplus of collaboration schemes, experts, consultants, and gurus, making it difficult to know where to begin. Think about it like a diet: Choosing a diet plan—almost any diet plan—and faithfully sticking to it can kick-start a weight loss and health program. Collaboration is much the same.

Choosing and committing to a common framework for enterprise collaboration is more important than carefully vetting the pros and cons of 20 different approaches. “The 12 Habits of Highly Collaborative Organizations” is a good starting point. Guideline number 2, “Strategy before technology,” is a vital lesson for any collaborative enterprise. As an alternative, Gartner’s “Six Best Practices” for extreme collaboration achieves similar goals through a different set of principles (and half the bullet points).

Collaborative cultures make smarter use of technology

Collaboration does not mean mindlessly calling all hands on deck for every minor discussion and decision. Anyone with significant corporate experience can relate to the all-hands conference call–and to the feeling that hours of time were wasted on something that could have been summed up in a three-paragraph précis.

A collaborative organization doesn’t simply use technology to drag more people into conference calls. Instead, a collaborative organization can, for example, alert subject matter experts ahead of time that their insight might be needed during the call. These heads-up invitations ask the experts to remain available via instant message or VoIP during the call, but otherwise allow them to focus on their daily responsibilities. Think of it as collaborating smarter, not harder.

Collaboration also means thinking socially. A generational shift has occurred since the first activity-monitoring tools, such as sales force automation, were installed. At the time, many employees railed against what they perceived as oppressive, Big Brother-style monitoring. Today, people are much more open to sharing the details of their activities and exploits to relevant, connected audiences over social media. Enterprise social platforms take advantage of that openness, and social activity feeds are an important part of a collaborative enterprise.

Social networking also makes it easier to acknowledge collaboration and reward teamwork. Gartner’s extreme collaboration framework encourages the use of social network analysis to pair the qualitative merits of collaboration with quantifiable interactions and outcomes. Enterprise social feeds enable colleagues to jump in with comments and suggestions, or help take the load off of an overwhelmed teammate.

And that’s exactly what members of a collaborative culture are supposed to do.

Lisanne Powers Unified Communications Lead Marketing Communications Manager AT&T About Lisanne