Social collaboration tools are getting smarter. 

Vendors boast about the plethora of back end reports — numbers of users, posts, comments, likes, even sentiment, broken down across groups, silos, roles, you name it. So much data available, yet so little certainty of making your social collaboration initiative deliver on its promise. 

The data is useful, but only tells us about transactional behaviors. What people do, not what they feel. (I have little confidence in so-called sentiment reports, let me say that now.) 

Staff engagement is, ultimately, not about participation volumes but about participation energy — energy derived from your people wanting to be part of the activity, to have a presence, to play a part. 

Our ultimate goal as collaboration practitioners is to create desire. We want the majority of the workforce to want to be a part of this wave, collaborating toward a common goal and outcome. 

We want the activity of collaborating to generate its own irresistible momentum.

The Power of Emotional Tides

I'm a big believer in taking cues from practitioners in other walks of life. It can prompt us to achieve similar results within the workplace.

Let's look at this through the prism of sport. Coaches often talk about momentum. It’s something we as an audience feel as a game unfolds. An emotional tide that seems to sweep up all the facts, figures and human psychology of the moment into a simple one-word bundle of meaning that we absolutely get.  

Momentum. A surge of energy. 

We can sense shifts in momentum even as we watch. We accept it as an explanation for defeat or victory. We feel it, as opposed to understand it, because at its core it’s an emotional phenomenon, a flow of energy, not just the logical, inevitable outcome of a game play.

Many sum it up momentum simply as players being "in form" or confidence rising and spreading through the team. This is important, but only goes part of the way. 

Individuals who are in form do not necessarily generate team momentum. Team momentum occurs when the form and confidence of individuals gels into a single team dynamic in which all individuals connect on a deeper level. They begin to feed off each other's energy in the firm belief that by working together anything becomes possible.

Understanding Momentum

It's not a big leap to see the significance of this for the workplace.

So let’s pause a moment and reflect on what creates momentum in the sporting world:

  • A savvy understanding of the ebb and flow of the overall game
  • A sense of ‘moment’, each person understanding the high value of what they’re doing
  • The will to apply maximum effort because the end point or goal is as much about the individual’s pride in participating (being an integral part of the achievement, it couldn’t have happened without me) as the external prize itself (winning an important game or trophy)
  • Unity, feeling part of a single well-oiled unit who have an understanding of one another deeper than the simple execution of skills and know-how;
  • Teamwork, the accumulation of a string of small actions into a single, smoothly operating mechanism in which everyone has unquestioning confidence in the skills and knowledge of the team around them

Each one of these factors can be addressed with clearly thought-out tactics, just as a coaching staff would do in the world of sports or just as a someone like a community manager might do in the workplace.

A Holistic Approach

Let’s take them individually.

Understanding the ebb and flow of the game can be as simple as open, effective communications to keep staff apprised of the state of the operating environment, be it cross-silo, the broader industry or (preferably) both. 

Demystifying it, enabling everyone to see how the nuts and bolts, how the cogs, all fit together — always with a view of identifying areas to build on. Sadly, many large organizations consider this kind of peripheral awareness unnecessary, a distraction, not crucial to task completion. 

Imagine a coach telling his forwards they don’t need to worry about the back-line's strategy because it isn’t relevant to their role!

A sense of moment is about vision: A vision for collaboration beyond "so we can collaborate better." A vision that carries a high sense of purpose and pride. A genuine invocation for greater glory. Innovating for success, winning market share, creating a new customer base. These are examples of a vision that, when connected to the role of each individual, carries a sense of moment and opportunity. Such a vision must not only be preached by the senior management team, but also practiced. 

Read any sporting story and you’ll understand that pride in participating, no matter how much or how little, is crucial to momentum. Every person believing that without their participation the result would not have been a given. It is, in some ways, the wellspring of momentum. Coaxing maximum effort from a team means treating all contributors equally as part of the team, no outliers. Bring them into the huddle, make them feel part of the moment.

Embracing Our Humanity

This of course feeds into the last two points: unity and teamwork. 

Recent research from Google highlighted the importance of emotional intelligence in successful teams. Humans are not transactional robots. Deeper relationships means understanding the humanness of your coworkers. Peeling off a few layers so that we understand one another on a more personal level in the normal course of our activities, obviously within boundaries. That way, we invest more effort and sincerity in working together towards a common end.

Teamwork? In typical corporate-speak this is defined as a group of people working on individual tasks towards a common end. Try telling a sporting coach that momentum is as simple as a bunch of players all executing their given roles! 

Tasks are transactional, not inspirational. Momentum occurs when people are inspired by the knowledge and confidence that their own ability to execute is matched by the ability and expertise of those around them. That when thrown a curve ball, there is always someone just over their shoulder, just a quick post away, ready to help out. 

To pick up the awkward pass, just as you would for them. Is someone else in a better position? Have you or a colleague played yourself into a corner? Momentum is having absolute certainty that the team can play itself out of any situation.

None of these dot points alone will achieve momentum. Momentum is the result of all of them working together, in parallel. A well thought out social collaboration strategy should reflect this with tactics covering all bases.