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Ask any executive and they’ll tell you that effective “collaboration” is more important than ever. The reason is simple: as teams communicate across disciplines and time zones, having the ability to share complex information quickly and accurately means the difference between project success and failure.

Yet, often that’s where agreement ends. While we’re seeing a serious enterprise need for solutions that allow for real-time teamwork, you’ll be hard-pressed to find agreement regarding exactly what “collaboration” entails and what benefits it brings.

The Collaborator’s Dilemma

The reason could be that existing enterprise collaboration solutions have typically fallen into two camps: social networks that merely become extensions of the proverbial “water cooler” – or cloud-based storage that is meant for sharing, but ends up being an information locker where important information languishes or is lost.

The problem in both scenarios is that a gap exists within each of them with no built-in ability to move shared knowledge forward for specific business results.

Case in point, Google Drive’s and Microsoft’s Skydrive’s recent entrance into the hot but increasingly crowded, cloud-based storage market. They, much like Dropbox, Box and a plethora of similar options, have been created for easy storage and sharing, allowing users to swap files in the cloud rather than clogging up email inboxes.

Conventional wisdom is that in today’s increasingly dispersed workplace everybody “needs” cloud-based file sharing. And with big players in the market everyone will pretty much have it -- but is it really collaboration? The issue is that most so-called “sharing solutions” don’t enable the insight or execution needed for more meaningful collaboration. Information repositories that don’t provide context around the vision, or plan of action, can contribute to clutter.

Clutter Comes at a Cost

Make no mistake about it; all that sharing has made a measurable impact on the business -- and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

A recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory noted that 52 percent of U.S. workers believe the quality of their work suffered because they couldn’t sort through the information they needed quickly enough. Workers’ lost productivity translates directly into lost profits and has the potential to impact every business’s bottom line. In fact, that same study revealed that interruptions caused by information overload cost U.S. companies US$ 650 billion a year.

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When it comes to effective collaboration, access to information is just a part of the solution. Enabling teams to collectively create, assign, prioritize, execute and track their best plans requires more than just document storage.

Increasingly, storage companies realize that to compete they’ll have to buy, build or partner to expand their offerings and add more value. Beyond Google’s foray into both document management and storage, Box recently added its “One Cloud” platform for a “box store” of integrated applications that sits on top of their platform. In the social network collaboration camp, Yammer has followed suit, announcing integrations with Microsoft Dynamics, among others.

Working Better, Together

But as every dark cloud has a silver lining, there is a better way to work. What’s required is not more software integrations; it’s integrated collaboration -- serving those who set the vision to those who put the plans into action.

Teams are learning to do this by integrating both ideas and plans in real-time and leveraging their collective brainpower to innovate and successfully complete projects. They do this by setting the vision, creating the strategy, organizing the associated knowledge and information, and then making a plan of action and tracking tasks in real-time to ensure everything rolls out as planned. It isn’t just about managing a document or workload, but moving initiatives forward to create real business outcomes.

This people-centric approach is results-focused and helps push the best ideas to the perfect point person. Put simply, collaboration is about getting work done, and making sure that work is done well. And when you think of it that way, standalone systems simply can’t do that for your business, can they?

Manage the Work; Don’t Let it Manage You

The last thing we need is yet another social network or data repository; we need an information network that gets everyone on the same page and moves ideas to action. The good news is that progress is being made to bridge this divide. By leveraging the correct technology and embracing a more integrated form of collaboration, professionals can feel the satisfaction of accomplishing more of their goals, while reclaiming a better work-life balance.

And that, ultimately, will lead to better productivity for businesses and employees alike.

Title image courtesy of Darren Baker (Shutterstock).

Editor's Note: To read more by Scott Raskin: