Over the past two weeks, Aberdeen has provided 5 Reasons Organizations Require Real Time Collaboration and Nine Steps to Improve Business Collaboration to show how Best-in-Class high revenue growth companies (averaging 25% revenue growth last year) compared to all other organizations.

But what if you’re not ready for a jet-powered trip to collaborative Nirvana? Perhaps your company is the epitome of a hide-bound and traditional organization that is averse to change. If so, you don’t have time to do everything. You need to focus on the greatest change agents that can be established within your organization.

As Aberdeen looked at this problem, we focused on the plight of the Laggards: the bottom 30% of our respondents. These companies averaged a revenue loss of 7% last year and had very little quantitative value associated with their collaborative efforts. They tended to reply on traditional telecom, mobility and web portals for collaboration to the exclusion of social business software and content management solutions.

Despite these limitations, Laggards have actually spent more money on deploying and supporting their core collaboration technologies on a per employee basis. Somehow, they have mastered the unholy downward spiral of spending more and doing less. To get out of this trap and begin using the habits of highly effective companies, Aberdeen makes the following observations:

1. Don’t just work hard, work smart

All the meetings in the world won’t get anything done if they’re not effective. Companies need to conduct an honest analysis of the benefits they gain from meetings and working together. How does your collaborative environment build better solutions and how does it fail your company? Although a formal analysis will be more thorough, even your own perception of what works and what doesn’t work is a great start.

2. Partition collaborative goals into appropriate categories

Categorize the most important interactions in your workplace and identify whether they are synchronous, asynchronous, one-to-one, one-to-many or many-to-many collaborative experiences. By assigning these goals appropriately, companies won’t misalign technologies with business goals. This is far from a complete list, but provides a simple framework for the thought process that companies can use by creating multiple frameworks based on synchronous vs. asynchronous, voice/video vs. text, free vs. expensive, or other frameworks that may be relevant. Note that in this case, some tools such as microblogging and activity streams defy this tidy definition because they can be used for many of these types of interactions. In the real world, not everything fits into a box. (Table 1)

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3. Identify the appropriate tools for each enterprise collaboration category

Simply using one tool, even a Best-in-Class differentiator microblogging, to control all collaboration will not be effective. This unguided and unsophisticated approach will only lead to a failed collaboration experiment that will take up months of time, money and resources. Companies should set up appropriate tools for their communities. Currently, only 10% of Laggards have a formalized or iterative process to develop these processes in ways that optimize the effects of collaboration.

4. Just Do It! (NikeTM)

Don’t just sit still and wait for the tools to come to you.IT departments will cringe as they see these words, but the creation of successful collaborative environments require the kind of testing that only occurs from actual usage. Create a test environment and start using free or freemium tools that are most interesting to you.

5. Build a social life (integrated with your enterprise collaboration approach)

One of the clearest dividers between Industry Average and Best-in-Class collaborators is the use of social business technologies (including blogs, portals, and activity streams) and social media to collaborate with the outside world. Social business is not simply a novelty any more; it is one of the most effective ways to clearly and efficiently provide a message to a focused and targeted audience, whether internally or externally. To show just one example, 67% of Best-in-Class companies used blogs compared to only 30% of all other organizations.

6. Use collaboration to drive product development and R&D efforts

This step is the trickiest one since it requires some evangelization and awareness to be built in the company. To make this work, you’ve got to shift from being a doer to being a strategic evangelist. However, one of the sharpest divides among maturity classes was in how companies defined their collaborative ROI. Only 20% of the Industry Average indicated that collaboration provided accelerated product development compared to 84% of Best-in-Class companies. This stark gap demonstrates the potential power of collaboration in creating revenue-creating products and services. Industry Average companies are simply missing an opportunity that Best-in-Class organizations are taking advantage of.

7. Think of your salespeople as wolves. Like wolves, salespeople hunt better in packs

Aberdeen also saw significant gaps exist between Industry Average and Best-in-Class companies in using collaborative solutions to increase lead generation and sales capabilities. By empowering your sales force to work together and share best practices, your company can start building its way to Best-in-Class revenues and ROI.

By following these seven steps of highly effective collaborators, you can help lead your organization to improved collaborative behaviors associated with higher revenues and improved collaboration-based ROI.