Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Collaboration: And Knowing Is Half The Battle

Yes...I blatantly used a G.I. Joe-ism in the title. Why? Perhaps just to reel you in from Planet Lotus ;-)

In my recent work with customers and all the hubbub around social networking and collaboration, it's quite evident that collaboration is cool again. I'd like to think that Lotus is playing no small part in this, as our offerings in this space are truly exciting. I'm more enthusiastic about Lotus than I have been in years and that's saying something since you know I'm a fanboy! :-)

But one concern I have is an issue that I encountered many times in my career as a consultant, and that is we are spending a lot of time driving home the technology component without a lot of emphasis on what I believe makes up the other half of a successful collaborative ecosystem: the culture.

If you are introducing the idea of collaboration for the first time or are trying to kickstart a stalled initiative, addressing the cultural component of collaboration is critical. It's not enough to have the best technology for supporting collaboration installed in your company...you must have people that will leverage that technology in the context of their business goals.

So what does a successful collaborative culture need to get started? Here are my ideas, but I'd like to hear yours as well.

*Collaboration Champions: Some folks that embrace the concepts right off the bat and serve as the "go to" people when other employees have questions and need assistance. These are usually the employees that "get it" immediately when a new collaborative technology is introduced and quickly become proficient in its use, both from a technical standpoint and from a business focused one.

*Provide Recognition: Many companies overlook the importance of praising a job well done. For many employees, helping others in a collaborative culture is an intrinsic reward unto itself, but they still value when their efforts are recognized. Rewards don't always need to be monetary in nature. In fact, the top providers in a social network or collaborative initiative often find the kudos to be the most rewarding aspect of participation.

*Proper Training: Argh...don't get me started about companies that don't train people on new technology. How often have we heard "Lotus Notes s*cks" because the users were unaware of how to successfully use the software. Yes, we wish all software could be so easy to use that you don't need any training, but with enterprise software we're not there yet. Thus, providing instruction is an important aspect of the collaborative culture.

*How Does This Help Me?: One of the most compelling arguments I've seen in a successful implementation of collaboration technologies is when the company can clearly articulate the vision to employees and answer the question "What's in it for me?". Let's be honest...while the recognition mentioned above certainly is a motivator for some, the majority of employees will just think that this is another one of those things management does to annoy us. ;-) If you can help employees see how this initiative will make their job easier, help them make more commission, not have to work overtime, etc., they'll buy into the movement much more quickly.

There's obviously a lot more to this subject and I've just scratched the surface here. I'll save more for another post, since I think a lot of you are sick of my long essays! :-) However, one point of note. Not many consulting organizations address culture as a significant part of a new customer collaboration engagement. I think there's some good business potential there. Who will tap into it?


Andrew Brew said...

Chris, good post as usual. I won't add any to your list, but will say that in my view the last is the most important. In any project that aims to change the way people work (and in the IT space, if it won't change the way they work, you have to ask yourself why you are doing it) the challenge is always cultural rather than technical. Getting the technology in place is (relatively) easy. Getting people to change their habits is not.

First there is inertia - people persist in doing what they are already doing until there is a cogent reason to change. When you try to shift them their first question is always "Why should I? What's in it for me?" The question is of course usually posed implicitly rather than explicitly. Very often it is posed passively, and shows itself only as resistance to change. If we don't recognise that the question is there, though, and give a good answer to it, no change will occur. And, indeed, why should it?

Tony Palmer said...

I would add that whilst you can implement the technology and provide the tools and even attempt to change or modify the culture to encourage this, if there is no real senior CxO endorsement, the invariably any bottom up initiatives will stall and achieve little success.

I believe that this type of cultural change projects is the stuff the Knowledge Management consultants and transformation management consultants are already doing.

Its a very interesting topic, I can suggest a few books on the topics that I found interesting.

Also check out