Collaboration applications never seem to need a business case, other than a senior manager deciding that there is poor collaboration in the organisation and that the problem can be solved with bringing in some new technology.

However there is usually never any analysis of whether or not there is a systemic problem with collaborative working. Achieving effective collaboration requires a series of precursor actions to have been accomplished, in all of which the intranet plays a critical role in their execution. 

It starts with Culture

Does the organisation really support collaborative working? Are there examples on the intranet of how business objectives have been achieved more effectively through collaborative working?

The intranet should be the place where people can find guidance notes on how to work collaboratively, with links to some of the many resources available on the web. Work though the heuristic-based checklist from Pebble Road.

Then How are Connections Made?

With the inevitable churn in employees how can you be certain that you know who could be a member of the team you are trying to set up? This is where a staff directory in which employees can indicate their skills and experience. This needs to be managed carefully, because the free-text approach so common in SharePoint is just not good enough. An enterprise search application with name entity extraction is essential in any large organisation.

Let the Conversations Begin

Having made the initial connections Conversations begin. These conversations are essential in building trust between people who do not know each other. Trust lies at the heart of effective collaboration, together with a common cause and mutual benefit from the outcomes.

The best book on collaboration is, if only because Morten Hansen, the author, provides excellent examples of where bad collaboration has resulted in poor business outcomes. The intranet should be supporting these conversations through blogs, wikis, instant messaging and discussion forums.

Coordinating Actions

As the conversations develop people start to Coordinate some initial actions. A project plan may be developed by several individuals contributing sections of the plan, which might then be assembled by one member of the team. Much of this content may be on the intranet, so just links can be forwarded, rather than emails with large attachments.

The role of the intranet manager is to ensure that this content can be discovered, and trusted as being the best available, perhaps through a Best Bets solution on the enterprise search application. Members of the team will then be able to judge the expertise and commitment of the team members from the quality and timeliness of their contributions.

Time to Start Collaborating

Only then, with trust established and procedures agreed, can Collaboration begin. But collaboration is not an end in itself. Out of the collaborative effort will invariably come more documents, even if just a Lessons Learned report.

All too often these remain in the collaboration application, invisible to all except the team because no one has moved the content outside the firewall and back into the intranet, public wiki or document management system. There has to be governance of the process to ensure that this takes place, and that multiple information silos are not inadvertently created.

Intranet managers have to be fully engaged in the governance of collaboration applications even if the platform is not the intranet CMS. As noted above the intranet is core to all the five elements of successful team-working, a term I much prefer to collaboration.

Editor's Note: Also read Carl Frappaolo's Collaboration – If it Were That Easy We Would all Do It – Well.

Next Steps

As well as the book by Hansen immerse yourself in the books and advice to be found at Read an excellent report on how people connect with each other by Deloitte  . There is a lot of good advice and case studies in a report on Enterprise 2.0 from the Nielsen Norman Group.

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