Organizations know they need to get their employees collaborating and are making significant investments into collaboration tools to support this effort.  

But then they're left wondering why people still don't rush to use these tools.

To help answer this question, let’s understand what powers any organization. 

Traditionally we say People, Processes and Systems. I don't dispute that. People are vital and systems provide essential capability. But people and systems come and go, while the processes that determine how an organization functions remain.

Switching the Collaboration Focus

Typically we focus our collaboration efforts on people — get them collaborating, sharing knowledge, talking. Most organizations position collaboration platforms and tools as just that, an all-purpose generic add-on. "Here is the tool, here are some instructions for using it, apply it to your general work practices as needed." 

While well-meaning, this approach is flawed.

Collaboration is not an all-purpose fix-it for poor knowledge sharing that you just turn on like a tap. It should be focused on where it will be most valuable: business processes. At a minimum, this helps clarify the purpose of new collaboration tools and gives them a higher purpose: to produce a demonstrably better customer experience. To improve process performance and open the door to everyday innovation.

Position your collaboration systems as not just a way of "collaborating better," but as a vehicle for continuous reinvention of current processes and practices. Uptake of collaboration tools depends highly on the clarity of the vision of why they are there.

Clear purpose gives collaboration energy, momentum and direction.

A (Relatively) Quick Way to Get Collaboration Off the Ground

Choose a key business process. Analyze which points in that process would benefit most from aggregated knowledge and experience. Ask, whose knowledge is needed? Who should knowledge be shared with? 

Focus your efforts on getting those people talking and exchanging knowledge using the collaboration tools you've provided. Make sure they're supported, so they have a positive 'first touch' experience and avoid the dreaded digital workplace chaos

And make sure the process owner makes clear statements about the value of working this way. People already have a shared purpose — the process — but constant reinforcement of the higher goals will give it extra drive.  

Room for Collaboration Improvement

An example from the real world: a customer feedback process. A traditional model sees customer feedback pass through a pipeline of relevant checkpoints before someone directs it to the appropriate person for action. I use the word pipeline deliberately: this is typically a closed process. 

Applying collaborative techniques, the feedback loop can be replaced with a social collaboration group which includes, for argument's sake, all product managers. By having customer feedback exposed, they can learn from one another and support one another, rather than just wait until someone taps them on the shoulder with a customer problem ... and no one else know about it.

Sales processes and tenders are also good candidates. I have seen too many examples of knowledge from past sales and tenders not being shared simply because it is not being exposed. Social collaboration is all about exposing knowledge, so what better place to look at how it might benefit your organization than one of its key processes? 

Start with basic knowledge sharing techniques, then begin to build across-the-board conversations about how the process might be improved and how to remove existing roadblocks, rather than having separate teams mumbling about it privately.

A collaboration initiative can be frustrating if your efforts are focused on changing the knowledge-sharing behaviors of an entire workforce using your shiny new collaboration tool. Rather, look for processes like these that will immediately gain traction and, by extension, a quick business return on your investment.

Title image "Gum Shoe" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  mahalie