The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may be facing one of its biggest challenges yet.

With thousands of employees scattered across 28 countries, the high-security, intergovernmental organization is feeling the strain of siloed departments and increased turnover, and has turned to enterprise social collaboration for help.

Working with Swedish company Incentive, providers of enterprise collaboration software with additional headquarters in Los Angeles, NATO hopes to make it easier for teams across offices and nations to work together, said Incentive CEO and Founder Rickard Hansson.

Making Smart People Smarter

Rickard-HanssonIncentive announced the partnership last year, stating that almost 1500 NATO employees would begin using their private social intranet, with plans to roll the platform out to 10,000 staff.

“NATO attracts the smartest people in the world,” said Hansson. “But historically, it’s been very siloed, with no way to easily reach out to people with common background and knowledge.”

With enterprise social network (ESN) as a starting point, Hansson said the organization needed other features to ensure they keep people on board, including collaboration and the ability to communicate more easily.

“They wanted to make the whole workspace more attractive, show work opportunities available within the organization, and increase communication between departments.”

A Cultural Shift

Hansson, who serves as strategic advisor in collaboration and adoption for NATO, first visited their headquarters in Brussels a little more than a year ago to set the stage for the Incentive implementation.

He said the biggest challenge is getting people to use the platform and to understand why they should use it.

“There is a cultural shift in terms of moving away from departments and a vertical organization to becoming more transparent,” he said.

In an organization accustomed to working with classified information, he added, finding a “comfortable way” to communicate openly and transparently is a work in progress.

“The will to change and to adopt has been higher than other organizations because they’re eager to try new things, and eager to adopt innovation,” said Hansson. “They just haven’t had a tool yet.”

With a tool now in place, said Hansson, NATO is now experimenting with how to handle sensitive information in an increasingly collaborative environment.

“It has been trial and error,” he said. “They’ve made up rules: Everything in SharePoint is classified. Everything in Incentive is non-classified. The problem is that it requires you to think all the time, and it slows down the information-sharing process, at least until it becomes natural.”

What Can NATO Teach Us?

The biggest lesson businesses can take away from NATO in this situation, said Hansson, is that if NATO is moving toward enterprise collaboration, your business can do it, too.

“That NATO is doing this at all is a huge thing,” concluded Hansson. “From the outside, NATO appears bureaucratic and non-transparent, but they’re looking at a solution while we’re still struggling to convince private organizations to adopt.

“They have the same challenges as everyone else. And even though they have a strange way of working with secrecy, they’re still going to do it. That, in and of itself, is very interesting.”

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Title image by cogdogblog.