While many companies struggle to adopt social business practices, others have found ways to generate real business results through collaboration.

The difference often comes down to a structured approach to social business that was explored yesterday in a CMSWire webinar featuring Jim Lundy, CEO and lead analyst for Aragon Research, Matt Wenger, CEO of ThinkTank and Kim Glover, manager of knowledge management for FMC Technologies. The session was sponsored by ThinkTank.

What's structured collaboration? Lundy explained it's basically a mash-up of existing social techniques with product management technologies augmented by predictive analytics.

The Competitive Edge

"Our prediction is that by the end of 2016, 40 percent of enterprises will adopt structured collaboration," said Lundy. "It's the software that is really going to be the driver. That's going to get you to a competitive advantage."

As Wenger explained, any type of workplace collaboration involves two basic challenges to human nature. First, workers often shy away from saying what they think out of fear that their ideas will be viewed as silly or irrelevant.

The second challenge is a misperception. Managers bring more people into a project on the assumption that the extra brain-power will yield a better result. "But the reality is the more people we bring together, the more complex we make that collaboration," said Wenger. "We add more limits and obstacles to a successful outcome."

He said ThinkTank addresses those challenges with an approach built on three pillars: linking the best thinkers around the world, creating an environment that overcomes personal fears and engaging in a structured process that is designed to achieve business outcomes.

Getting Stuff Done

"The definition of collaboration is changing," said Lundy, who was featured in a recent interview on CMSWire. "We're seeing more business leaders who say, 'Look, I want to get this done'."

Not surprisingly, more gets done when people stop simply sharing their views and actually start working together toward a specific business outcome.

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"Getting the team to coalesce around an idea or approach is very, very hard," Lundy said, referring to slide that showed the progression of social business approaches.

"Collaboration isn't new," he said. "But teams that move fast are going to do more collaboration. They're going to do it with more people. And they're going to get to those outcomes faster."

The trick, he said, is to embrace new technologies like predictive software, mobile engagement, the cloud and connected devices. As those elements fuse, they can help to turn a group of chatty employees into a powerful force united on a mission.

"Computers and humans are going to work closer together than they have before. Technology, including collaboration, is going to become a competitive weapon much more today in business than it ever has been," said Lundy.

Pulling Away

"We think enterprises that use structured collaboration are going to get to the right outcome 50 percent more often than those who use traditional approaches," he said. "The big thing today is speed. If you can get a tool that enables that, you're going to have a competitive advantage."

FMC is a case in point. The oil-and-gas company has swollen from about 10,000 workers in 2009 to about 20,000 today. Glover's job is to fulfill a management vision of sharing knowledge across the global workforce in a way that boosts productivity.

"You can't just tell people 'Let's go collaborate' and expect it to happen and to magically create business value and customer value," said Glover, who oversees 60 collaborative systems. She added:

We really believe that we can help drive this culture of execution through innovative collaboration -- maybe it should also be called structured collaboration -- and that it can unleash the value and potential of our people. And by 'people' we don't just mean employees. We mean our partners, our suppliers, our third-party contractors and, of course, ultimately our customers."

Big Winners

Before closing, Wenger offered other examples of companies that saw strong results from social efforts within about a year of adopting ThinkTank's approach:

  • Boeing reduced process cycle times by 91 percent
  • IBM cut its process cycles by 92 percent
  • P&G reported a 950 percent increase in ideation

"Essentially what we do is we enable leaders to construct sessions using best practices and collaboration building blocks" such as crowd-sourcing, voting tools, collaborative spreadsheets, wikis, he said. "What we do is pull them together in a timeline framework."

You can watch the full webinar below.

Title image by XuanHuongHo / Shutterstock.