Evolving A Collaboration Strategy

Evolving a collaboration strategy is a complex affair – there is no one right way to do it. Having worked in two dramatically different organizations over the past 8 years or so, here are a few things I think are key :

  • Who and how you hire will eventually affect your ability to build a collaborative work culture. This in my experience is one of the most obvious and often over looked areas when evolving a long term collaboration strategy. And to add to this, HR/OD/OB strategists are rarely involved in these strategy sessions. Key to building collaborative capability is to look for traits that matter to make collaboration happen – empathy, trust & respect  to name a few. Irrespective of the tools we deploy, people have to choose to share and collaborate and these are voluntary decisions people make.
  • Physical Workspace Design. Building and workspace design is another area that needs to be factored in. Do your physcial workspaces allow seamless collaboration? Are they flexible enough to be reconfigured? Can employees move seamlessly between heads-down and group work and will workspaces assist them in doing this?
  • Understand decentralized decision making. Re-looking at Thomas Malone’s decentralized decision making structures would be interesting given where we are with Enterprise 2.0/social software. Understanding the right structures for the right scenarios will enable decision makers to choose the right set of tools. New experiments like SAP’s 12sprints are interesting in this context.
  • Prepare for porous enterprise boundaries. There are numerous theories around the development of organizational capabilities and RBV has been one of the earliest ones. Resources no longer need to reside completely within the enterprise and models like Innocentive have proved this. Preparing for a future where knowledge flows seamlessly within and outside enterprise boundaries is something a collaboration strategy needs to take into account.
  • Understand Incentives. This has been a very controversial and highly debated topic for a long time and will remain so given the complexity involved. Dan Pink’s TED talk on the science of motivation is a great source to get started on understanding incentives and rewards better. Understanding altruism, self-interest and everything in-between is challenging but any effort in this direction will have an impact on building support structures/mechanisms for collaboration to happen.
  • Foster Communities. Nothing new here but understanding informal communities and it’s role in building organizational capabilities is important. Fostering communities would also mean that decision makers acknowledge the existence of an informal organization.
  • Invest in social software. There is a specific reason why this is the last point – between throwing tools at people and they doing something with it, is one important magical thing that remains constant – the choice people make to use it or dump it – It is important to create the environment where people will choose to use these tools and then change manages itself. And creating that environment involves leadership,strategy and a commitment top-down and bottom-up.
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