What makes an organization successful with enterprise collaboration? They follow these 12 principles.

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No two chess games are ever the same. In fact there are more possible chess moves then there are atoms in the entire universe or seconds that elapses since the big bang. The world of collaboration is similar. No two companies are going to have the same approach because there are too many variables. Things such as culture, budget, where collaboration initiatives start from, use cases, desired goals, and type of support are some of the variables that differ from one company to the next.


So if chess and collaboration are both limitless then how do we find solutions? One of the things a chess master does is look for similar patterns or positions to help figure out the next move. In the world of collaboration we also have such patterns of trends of successful companies.

Thus far I have identified 12 principles to the success of a collaboration initiative.

1. Individual benefit is just as important as the overall corporate benefit (if not more important)

Don’t focus on the overall corporate value and benefit when communicating collaboration to employees. Employees care about how this will impact them on an individual basis. How will this make their jobs and lives easier? So instead of talking about how much money this can make or save the company, talk about how this can improve the employees productivity, how it can make their jobs easier, and how it can make them happier at work.

2. Strategy before technology

Before rushing to pick that shiny new collaboration platform, focus on developing a strategy which will help you understand the “why” before the “how.” This is crucial for the success of any collaboration initiative. You don’t want to be in a position where you have deployed a technology without understanding why. You wouldn’t buy a $500,000 hammer and then walk around your house bashing things would you? Yet that’s exactly what many companies are doing today, they purchase a hammer and then try to find a problem for it to solve.

3. Listen to the voice of the employee

We are always so adamant about listening to the voice of the customer, what about the voice of the employee? When going down the collaboration road within your enterprise it’s important to make employees a part of the decision making process from step one. Listen to their ideas, their needs and their suggestions and integrate their feedback in your technology and strategy.

4. Learn to get out of the way

This is something Andrew McAfee talks about quite frequently. Learn to empower and support your employees and then get out of their way. By trying to enforce and police everything you stifle collaboration within your organization. Some best practices and guidelines are fine to have but let your employees do what they need to do. Avoid the, “wear any color as long as it’s black” mentality.

5. Lead by example

If leaders at your organization don’t use and support collaborative tools and strategies then why should the employees? Leaders are very powerful instruments to facilitate change and encourage desired behaviors. They must be visibly on board using the tools and not just writing checks to deploy them.

6. Integrate into the flow of work

Collaboration should never be seen as an additional task or requirement for employees. Instead collaboration should fit naturally into their flow of work. For example, instead of having employees use multiple usernames, passwords and log-in sites, create a “front-door” to the enterprise accessed through your collaboration platform (enabled by single-sign-on).

7. Create a supportive environment

If your organization focuses on rewarding employees for individual performance as the main driver of success then it will become quite hard to encourage employees to share and communicate with each other. Why would they want to? There is nothing wrong with rewarding employees for great performance but it’s also crucial to reward teamwork. For example, organizations can make a percentage of an employee’s bonus tied to how well they collaborate with their co-workers. A supportive environment also means having training and education resources available for employees as well as evangelists within the organization.

8. Measure what matters

There are a lot of things that an organization can measure but that doesn't mean that all of these things should be measured. Focus on the metrics that matter to your organization and the ones that are tied back to a business case. Some organizations focus on “busy” metrics such as comments submitted or groups created. Others focus on metrics such as engagement (defined as how connected and passionate an employee feels about the company and the work they do). Pick whatever metrics are relevant to showing progress.

9. Persistence

I believe that collaborative initiatives shouldn't be pilots, they should be corporate initiatives. These efforts can certainly take time but if the organization makes the decision that collaboration is the direction they want to go down then that’s it. No giving up and no turning back. Moving forward, organizations cannot succeed without connecting their employees and their information. Making collaboration work isn't an option -- it’s THE option.

10. Adapt and evolve

It’s important to remember that collaboration is perpetual. It’s a never ending evolution as new tools and strategies for the workplace continue to emerge. This means that it’s important for your organization to be able to adapt and evolve as things change. Keep a pulse on what’s going on in the industry and inside of your organization. This will allow you to innovate and anticipate.

11. Employee collaboration also benefits the customer

While customer collaboration and employee collaboration do solve very different and unique problems, employee collaboration has tremendous value to your customers. Employees are able to provide a better experience and superior support by being able to tap into internal experts, information and resources which can be used to help customers. Consider a customer that is working with a support representative who unfortunately does not know how to solve the customer’s problem. The employee, however, has access to the entire organization to find the right information and share it with the customer.

12. Collaboration can make the world a better place

Perhaps the most important principle of collaboration is that it can make the world a better place. Sure, collaboration can make our employees more productive and benefit our customers. But collaboration also allows employees to feel more connected to their jobs and co-workers, reduces stress at the workplace, makes their jobs easier, allows for more work freedom, and in general makes them happier people. This means less stress at home, less arguments with spouses, and more time to spend with loved ones. Collaboration not only positively impacts the lives of employees at work, but also at home.

Editor's Note: Jacob brings a lot of great insights on enterprise collaboration. Check out this one: 5 Myths of Collaboration.

Image courtesy of Rafal Olechowski (Shutterstock)