A lot of articles about collaboration assume that people work in a perfect company, just sitting around waiting for the green light to jump in.
This isn’t one of them.
If you want collaboration to happen across an organization it must be effortless for your employees — it’s that simple. Any obstacle is a reason not to bother. Your initiative will lose momentum and collaboration will ultimately fail.
Culture, internal politics and technology form a triumvirate of barriers to collaboration which businesses must overcome, but there are ways to clear these hurdles.
Cultural change can often be the biggest challenge.
1. Collaboration isn’t a light switch
Companies won’t instantly go from zero to 100 percent adoption (in fact many never get there). Success is often born out of a viral mentality. Organizations must think about which channels can be used? Are there early cheerleaders who can champion new approaches?
Findings have shown that user-generated content encourages up to 15 times more engagement and collaboration in employees compared to authored pages, so encouraging employee contribution is essential.
2. Ice breakers
If you’re a distributed company, employee’s relationships often depend on what they see daily. Avoid any new solution replicating this by cutting through the ice to forge collaborative workplace relationships.
A number of companies use "30 Day Engagement Challenges" — quick tasks that are easily completed within a working day, such as “say hi to someone in the business you have never spoken to before.” These can be remarkably effective.
3. It’s easier to join something interesting
Find the company’s cheerleaders early on and make them feel special. Ask other people to help by starting up and joining in conversations. It’s much easier for newbies to join something having ‘lurked’ and read other people’s views, than it is to start something in an empty forum and get no replies.
4. Run drop-in sessions
If you have late adopters, tempt them with a 10-minute coffee break session to show them five easy things which will make their lives easier.
If you are rolling out new devices, run a session with employees where they can play around with the new tools while you provide ideas and guidance.
Once a company knows what it wants and expects, it’s time to win backing. Ideally leaders should lead and listen, not just tell. Create an environment where employees feel trusted to contribute.
5. Make sure stakeholders value collaboration
Trust can be a huge barrier to collaboration: What if someone says x, y, z ...? What if someone does x, y, z …? What about the cost of people not saying anything at all? How much are missed innovations and opportunities costing the business?
We often hear, “I don’t want Facebook in our business,” so consider stakeholder perception when introducing collaborative tools. Try asking, “where do you go when you need to find something out?” Introduce the idea of an intranet solution as an internal Google, rather than just an enterprise social network where some people may have concerns on the relevance and level of purposeful collaboration that can be achieved.
When reporting back on activity, reports should be tailored to individual stakeholders based on their needs and beliefs on collaboration tools.
6. Train middle managers and leaders
Once you’ve won the hearts and minds of stakeholders, organizations must do the same with middle managers. Why should they encourage their teams to contribute? How does it add value to them? Why are they giving up control of the way their team works to facilitate change?
These groups should be included in any training communications or sessions. This will make it easier for them to take part and, if employees see these people contributing and interacting with other people on the front-line, they are more likely to feel like they’re trusted to do great things.
Reinforcing the importance of reply is also important. If they invite recommendations and ideas, make sure a thank you happens alongside any action arising from it. This will bring a massive sense of worth to employees’ efforts.
Technology defines the possible and impossible.
7. Make your collaborative tools externally accessible on any device
Extensive analysis of over 100 million collaborative activities by over 330,000 users on 550 global company intranets has found that over 23 percent of employees typically collaborate outside of core hours (8am - 6pm, Monday to Friday plus Middle Eastern variations). The scary truth is, if you can’t action an idea immediately, people are unlikely to wait, so how many collaborative actions are lost through inaccessibility?
With mobile and tablets being most people’s go-to devices outside of work, make sure the environment is responsive and effective for mobile use. If people have company devices, organizations must ensure that when upgrades occur, web access is seen as a priority to meet company objectives.
8. How many times do employees have to sign in?
If people can access collaboration tools remotely, how many times do they have to put in their password? The more times employees have to type the same thing, the more arduous it becomes.
Single-sign-on options can solve this. There are plenty out there that are as secure, if not more secure, than internal standards and that allow employees to move seamlessly between applications to get their work done. The key is that applications shouldn’t make work harder.
Language and time zones are often accepted as reasons organizations can’t get their best people together — restricting projects to one country or common language. But with the right collaborative tools in place virtual teams can flourish regardless of location, time zone or language. It’s just a matter of removing the collaborative roadblocks and opening up the organization to a new way of thinking and sharing.