E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Collaboration Is More Important Than Ever – 3 Barriers To Adoption

Gran Canaria - Veril Playa / Veril BeachLast Friday, my good friend Jack Vinson put together a rather good blog post where he was reminding us all how crucial collaboration has become for all businesses and knowledge workers out there. He actually references a couple of rather interesting blog entries that reflect some more on the paramount role of collaboration in today’s interconnected and networked world. All of them very good reads. All of them very accurate, too! So why is it that we are not that good at collaborating then, in the first place? Well, probably we have never been taught how to. And, maybe, we should.

Needless to say that in today’s corporate world, collaboration is, indeed, now more important than ever. In the era of the Knowledge Economy, it can’t be otherwise. It’s no longer even a choice. For the business, nor for knowledge workers. It’s an imperative. Actually, I would go even further: a matter of pure survival.

I am sure you may be thinking I am over-exaggerating a bit, but am I really? I mean, when was the last time you were working with your colleagues in your same building and on the very same project (Just that ONE project!)? Or even in the same country? I bet that was a long while ago! In my own case, the last time I had all of my colleagues in the same building and working on the same project was in 2000. Yes, that far back! From there onwards, people have become a whole lot more distributed, and virtual, to the point where my current team expands globally nowadays across various geographies. And we are all working on a bunch of various different projects / initiatives as well. To us all, like I said, collaboration is not a nice thing to have, but a critical success factor of not only what we do, but who we are as knowledge workers doing Web work day in day out.

And I know I’m not alone on this one. In various conference events where I have spoken on the topic of Social Computing I always ask this very same question of how many people are co-located on the same building and working on the same project and time and time again the response is pretty much the same: rather dispersed and virtual as well as involved in multiple projects. Thus when Jack comments further on how important collaboration is I just couldn’t help but agreeing 100% with him. It surely is. *Always* has been!! Even way before the time when social software tools kicked in within the corporate world!

That’s the point I also wanted to bring up into this blog entry; the fact that collaboration just didn’t happen when social software tools started to become more and more widely used inside / outside of the corporate firewall(s); quite the opposite! We have been using traditional collaborative tools for a long while now (Email?, Instant Messaging, Team Rooms, Discussion Databases, Team Spaces, etc. etc. ) and social tools are there now to provide us with an opportunity to help enhance and augment our already existing collaborative efforts across multiple teams, communities, organisations, etc. etc.

So why don’t we collaborate more then? Specially, using this next generation of collaboration and knowledge sharing tools (You can see how right here, using such terms, you have a great opportunity to escape the Enterprise 2.0 hyped term, too! 🙂 heh). What is it that is stopping us all from collaborating and sharing our knowledge with other knowledge workers? I am sure if I would go ahead and ask you that question, you would probably venture into sharing along a whole bunch of different reasons as to why people don’t collaborate. Feel free to chime in through the comments adding those various reasons. For now, though, I will share with you briefly what I think are the top 3 most damaging reasons that prevent people from collaborating effectively:

  1. Recognising Individual Performance vs. Team / Community Performance:

    Yes, I know, and do fully realise as well, that this statement may be a bit harsh, but unless we stop recognising individual performance and, instead, treasure, nurture and award team / community related performances (Based on group results versus personal ones) knowledge workers won’t just collaborate. As simple as that! They haven’t done so in the past and they won’t start now, even with the emergence of these social software tools we are all familiar with. It’s just not going to happen. And if you don’t believe me, go and shadow your Sales workforce for a while and you will see what I mean …

    (Dan Pink‘s The Surprising Science of Motivation is a great resource to help transform successfully some of that thinking on rewarding individual / team performance. Worth while a look for sure)

  2. Lack of long term vision (We are all on the same boat after all, aren’t we?):

    What I mean with that sentence is something very simple: knowledge workers do collaborate and share their knowledge across with no problem in most cases, but only amongst closed, siloed, team related groups, which means open, public, unrestricted knowledge flow does not exist; which means collaborating across networks and communities just doesn’t happen; which means, eventually, organisations / business units are fighting against each other, inside the corporate firewall, competing with one another to see which one is the one generating more business revenue.

    When, in reality, they should be doing something completely different; instead of fighting against each other eating each other’s pie, they should be helping one another behave more like a larger network, so that they would be able to eat a much larger piece of pie.

    This particular scenario is very difficult to overcome, because, in most cases, it’s so tightly embedded into the already existing business processes, as well as the core nature of the organisation(s) themselves, i.e. their culture (Fight against each and every other organisation before they eat your lunch!!) that it’s almost impossible to break it in its current form.

    That’s why, however, I have got such high hopes for Social Networking in the enterprise; once work organises itself around networks and communities we are going to see a much more dynamic flow of knowledge and information, as well as knowledge workers themselves; the rigid / strict traditional and hierarchical structures are going to leave their way to those interconnected, open, public networks where everyone can contribute and where therefore everyone has got a sense of being in the same boat. Thus it will no longer be a "fight each other to see who is the fittest", but more "help each other to survive and become a much stronger and powerful organisation altogether"; that one that relies on group work; that one that has a long term vision: that one of communities getting the job done!

  3. And, finally, lack of education: Certainly, one of my pet peeves in the area of collaboration. Coming from a traditional KM role this is something that I have witnessed first hand time and time again; and it’s not pleasant. It hasn’t been all along, but, hopefully, this time around things would be different.

    My main take on this one is that if you would want to inspire your knowledge workers, within any organisation, to contribute, collaborate and share your knowledge, you have got to show them how to. There is no excuse. There are people out there who are very keen on collaborating and sharing what they know, because they have done it for years; yet the vast majority doesn’t. And the main reason why is because they have never been taught about it. I mean, do you think we would be having *so* many issues with email today if people would have been educated and trained how to use it properly? I doubt it! (And the same thing happens with most traditional collaboration tools).

    Time and time again, plenty of businesses take for granted such important task of educating their workforce not only on the tools available to them out there, but also on how to use them effectively and efficiently to carry out, successfully, their day to day tasks. They would give their workforce a laptop, a mobile phone, an email address, a few links to explore and off you go and find out everything else by yourself. Oh, and in your own time, since during work hours you have got to do what you were hired for in the first place: work!

    That’s not how collaboration works, I am afraid. Knowledge workers need to be educated on a rather regular basis on how to make use of these tools; how to use them properly and embed them into their day to day workload / business processes. It’s an on-going effort of showing and demonstrating not only the capabilities of the tools in place, but also the many various business benefits. It’s all about having an education roadmap on collaboration tools so that different tasks and activities have got an opportunity to be executed using some of these tools. In a way, it’s an education roadmap on demonstrating how your knowledge workforce can work smarter, not necessarily harder.

    In short, it’s about a very much needed opportunity to help enhance their own individual productivity, so it would then become part of a group effort eventually; a group effort where everyone contributes, because everyone knows how, when, what and with whom to share their knowledge and collaborate. As simple as that. That’s why I’m also having high hopes on this one for social tools, because for the first time in decades most businesses out there, diving into the world of Enterprise 2.0, are providing education roadmaps for their workers so they have a first hand experience of how all of this social software stuff really works. And that’s a good thing! That’s what every single business out there needs to do, if they haven’t started just yet…

Like I said, I am certain there are plenty of barriers of entry into the Collaboration (& Knowledge Sharing) world(s); I just shared my top 3; the top 3 I have been exposed to for quite a while now, way way before even social software tools entered the corporate world! [Want to share across what are your top three barriers to collaboration…?]

The top 3 I hope one of these years we would be capable of moving away from, thanks to the increasing adoption of social computing tools within the enterprise. Thanks to each and everyone of us making continued use of these social tools to help transform not only our business processes, our customer interactions, our knowledge flows, but also our core matter: the culture in our very own organisations. Making them more dynamic, agile, capable and knowledgeable, networked and interconnected, engaged, involved and committed;  and less over-structured, over-processed, archaic, slow to respond, inoperative, and a long etcetera…

In short, making those organisations more human, more personal, more interconnected than ever before and less bureaucratic, which is what we seem to have done a pretty good job over the last few centuries. Perhaps it’s now a good time to put a stop to that. Don’t you think?

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  1. Amen to reason number 3, Luis – you’ve got to show them how and management has to LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

    Also, it’s sad — but realistic — to realize that this post could have been written YEARS ago!

    As always, good stuff.

    – Dennis

  2. Luis,
    absolutely spot on. Hopefully one day global leaders will understand what you say here and we will all be better off. If we invested half as much in collaborative efforts as we do in competing and fighting, the world would be dramatically different. Just imagine if all competitive funds were invested in helping others!!!!!
    Love your work ad always
    Tweeting as Metaphorage

  3. Very useful post. I really like the way you delineated the three most common obstacles to collaboration. I bet there is a correlation between which industry vertical a company operates within and its level of collaboration. I’m sure there would be outliers, but I’m guessing that some industries are probably more friendly to collaboration than others.

  4. Just super, what else can I say.

    On the topic of Sales (PT#1), this reminded me of a post did a while back (http://bit.ly/9ryc7S) about how collab would work for them. In addition to what you say, I think we also have to understand the motivations to collaborate and the constructs that will make it a success. The participant and collaboration incentives are the constant. Not the technology design which needs to respond.

  5. Fantastic post, Luis. 🙂 I think your top 3 reasons are definitely the ones that even I would vote for. Other reasons that come to mind immediately are * Lack of Trust and *A Culture that pressurizes people to achieve their objectives overnight (As we know, collaboration takes time)

  6. thanks for a concise post

    especially the education part I believe is important, but often neglected. Well, education sounds like something most people would like to avoid if possible, so may be the approach in these matters is very important if you don’t want a ‘leave us alone’

  7. Great Stuff, couldn’t agree more, I am going to try and adopt the top 3 and apply to my business model going forward, or should I say the Anti or Opposite Top 3. Got to Remember that!!!!!

  8. Great post again. I still think in admiration about one of my first employers, where sales was very much involved up to getting maintenance contracts. Part of the reason was the emphasis on team work. The yearly bonus was based on order intake (sales workforce), projected margins (sales workforce), gross margin achieved (rest of the company), customer satisfaction. If a part of the team failed, whether it was sales or maintenance there was no bonus…

    This system had it flaws, but it did lead to sales workforce making promisses that the technicians and products could actually live up to the expectations of customers. Or even outperform those expectations, ’cause an outperformance of projected margins, turnover and customer satisfaction would lead to a higher bonus for the whole company.

  9. Excellent post my friend! You didn’t use the term “Social Business” explicitly, but that is precisely what you are addressing in your discussions of Obstacles 1 & 2, which fit together like peas in a pod. You are correct in stating that none of these three obstacles are new, but I hope that the emerging conversation about Social Business will lead some organizations to finally deal with and overcome them.

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