just out of reach

Collaboration has been doing the rounds on the business buzzword circuit for some time now.

Waves of tools and techniques are already in play, promising to get our employees working in sync, to streamline our workflows and manage all of our business knowledge. The goal is honorable, no doubt about it. A system where everyone comes together to maximize business success? It’s a no-brainer. 

But the reality is, we’re still a long way off from realizing that vision.

Why? Steps to instill collaborative working don’t go far enough. Most businesses continue to operate as a series of silos, with employees regarded as a resource of their individual manager or department — rather than the business as a whole. 

Departmental Hierarchy: A Legacy System

Let’s consider how businesses are typically organized.

Individual roles fall under department umbrellas. Information and control flow up and down: from manager down to employee, and employee reporting back up to manager. This creates naturally occurring silos, even if those departments are (in theory) working towards the same goal.

I’m not saying there’s no place for departmental structure. It ensures accountability and clearly defines responsibilities. Giving managers ownership of their own ‘silo’ also creates pride, leadership and higher standards of work — and most importantly, everyone knows where they stand.

The trouble is that silos, by nature, create barriers to collaboration. Focusing on an up-down way of working stops us seeing what’s going on outside that bubble. Conversations, ideas and decisions are made without my knowledge. And if I’m focused on my goals, I’ll naturally prioritize them over anyone else’s. The collaborative vision collapses.

How Do We Solve It?

Breaking down organizational structure is a big step — and most of us aren’t ready for that degree of cultural change.

So, the solution isn’t to destroy silos altogether, but rather to lower the walls and barriers between them, and build a network of teams and individuals who can work intuitively together.

The Organization of Today

3 Principles of a Network of Teams

This comes down to 3 core principles:

1. Identify Employees by Skills and Projects — Not Department or Job Title

Individuals should be free to move around the business according to where they can deliver the most value. However, the challenge is knowing exactly who those people are when you need them. A job title, in reality, tells us very little.

If I have an upcoming project, I want to be able to search for the skills and experience I need to deliver on it. It’s time to evolve the business directory and create rich, accessible profiles that detail skills, expertise, interests and experience — not just title, location, department.

By entering a few keywords, I should be able to identify the project manager who has worked on another case like this in the past 12 months; the designer with experience in this industry; the marketing, sales and engineering experts in this field. By understanding that employees are business-wide resources and embracing an agile, project-based approach to working, we maximize our success.

2. Make Knowledge Accessible — Not Just Documents

Let’s say I want to find out the best practice for a particular process, or how to best address a customer query.

Thanks to our current version of ‘collaborative working,’ cloud-based, centralized storage of company documents is now pretty standard practice. I can access a document several of my colleagues have already created quickly and easily. I can even edit or update it, ensuring we have a ‘single version of the truth.’ That’s collaborative working, right?

Well, not exactly.

What I can’t tap into is all the additional knowledge behind that document. How did they arrive at this end goal? Are there any examples of this in context? Is this the right solution for me? 

These answers are hidden away in email chains, meetings and instant messenger conversations.

So, let’s remove those barriers and embrace a transparent, accessible process. Using tools such as forums or discussion boards on a searchable shared space, such as an intranet, opens up the knowledge pool. With the support of a powerful enterprise search, employees are empowered with more knowledge to make better-informed decisions and, ultimately, perform their roles better.

3. Bring it All Together

Even with the abundance of collaborative tools available, there’s no ‘one size fits all.’

This means teams or individuals often use different solutions to meet their needs. Yes, we’re collaborating — but once again, within the ‘silo’ of each tool or platform.

Some argue the case for streamlining: select one tool, and bring all employees onboard. But our employees are digitally savvy, and mandating a single application not only limits their options, but may actually hinder their ability to do their job.

The foundational principle of collaboration is getting people talking. So, the answer is to get our plethora of tools doing the same.

Align your technology stack using integration functionality and streamline the user experience with single sign-on, where possible. Creating a centralized digital workplace will foster true collaboration, bringing together all critical knowledge, information, conversations and the people who hold them.

Truly collaborative working is the holy grail for business — and it is within reach. We just can’t afford to drop the ball just yet.