Enterprise collaboration tools have been springing up for the last decade: some good, some not so good, none are a universal panacea. But why do you need a culture of collaboration, and if you decide you do need to go down this road, how do you bring this about?
Why Build an Enterprise Culture of Collaboration
This is the easiest part of the question to answer: increasing productivity, reducing costs, higher employee and customer satisfaction and engagement, and a collaborative environment fosters and promotes innovation.
Enterprise collaboration is not only about internal sharing of ideas and work, but also involves bringing participants into the mix but who are external to the organization, such as vendors and customers. Customer collaboration is extremely important for businesses looking for innovative ideas, as customer feedback is one of the most crucial drivers for it.
Organizations who successfully adopt a collaborative culture will on average see customer service and workforce productivity metrics improve by around 50%.
The argument to move to a collaborative enterprise is strong and powerful, but the how is never simple.
So, what do you choose – tool or culture?
Building a Collaborative Enterprise
Culture is about people first, and their mindset and approach to themselves, each other, their own behavior and finally their own organization.
Imposing collaboration is impossible, so deploying a collaboration tool and “Hey Presto!” we have a collaborative culture is simply not going to work.
An enterprise collaboration tool can help you transition to a collaborative culture, but it cannot do this on its own.
It is the internal culture which must be modified, or reset if need be, which opens the door to collaboration, but this is going to take some time – there is no overnight prescription for culture change of any kind.
Sharing is the most commonly observed behavior in collaborative cultures, whether it be information, techniques, experience, wisdom, or a how-to of how not to do something, or avoiding re-inventing the wheel.
This involves breaking down the knowledge and information silos created upon ourselves as individuals. A collaboration tool can be invaluable in this regard, as it provides a centralized platform for doing this; in the Social Media sphere, this is exactly how Facebook came about! People are inclined to share, we are a social species after all, however we also want credit and recognition too, and for there to be a quid pro quo – I scratch your back, you scratch mine.
The issue is how to encourage sharing and how to channel this positive behavior for the benefit of the business.
A collaboration tool can help by providing a file sharing repository, where users can upload their work. This allows other team members to also gain access, both for review and for hands-on contributions to the work itself. This encourages cross-team collaboration at the project-level too, but the notion and habit of sharing is more important to achieve in the earlier stages.
Collaboration also requires trust, so people must become comfortable with the idea of sharing their work product with a wider audience, rather than just themselves and supervisor. Providing practical support and suggestions for how to (constructively) criticize other people’s efforts is a good investment here.
Creating resources and space for collaboration within the organization is also a very good way to encourage greater, and more productive interaction. Establishing a framework of common resources and the ability for individuals to add to them, at first on a small scale, and gradually increasing both access and availability, allows people to gradually become subsumed within the new culture and to be comfortable with it.