When modern social collaboration software first emerged over 10 years ago, the main goals were to increase teamwork through sharing and to reduce friction between silos. These goals were only partially met due to limited features. Now social collaboration software provides richer sets of features to help team members share information and content across silos.

With this plethora of rich features comes new challenges. Because different types of collaboration software have a diverse mix of features, much of it overlapping, choosing the best collaboration tool can be tough. Is enterprise chat enough or an enterprise social network better? Will file sync and share allow a team to collaborate around files effectively or is a social content management system necessary to more fully share all types of rich media? It can be a difficult call.

My recent enterprise collaboration software primer identifies the major types of collaboration features and systems. Keep in mind, collaboration features are now baked into all types of software. Evernote may primarily be a note taking application, but it also allows content sharing and chat capabilities. So depending on requirements, the built-in features may provide all of the capabilities necessary.

If built-in collaboration features aren't enough or not enough of a team uses these features, then a purpose-built collaboration system may be in order. While there is no all-encompassing, perfect matching system, there are some simple guidelines that will help in decision making.

Enterprise Chat

Dominated by Slack, but with many competitors, enterprise chat facilitates team communication by combining group chat, private messaging (i.e. instant messaging) in both persistent and real-time modes. 

If the goal is simply getting a team to talk to each other when they are in different locations or time zones, enterprise chat is a good option.

File Sync and Share

Made famous by companies such as Dropbox and Box, all the major software companies — plus dozens of smaller ones — offer some form of file sync and share. Originally, these systems were built to facilitate access to files via a cloud service. They have now evolved into a way of collaborating using file-based information. File sync and share makes it much easier to share files and comment on them. 

If the work is primarily file-centric, such as creating documents or graphics, a file sync and share system may be enough. Insist on one that allows for commenting on files and their contents.

Shared Task Management

Most project management software is designed for professional project managers who need to track very large and structured projects. The majority of team work doesn't fall under this umbrella. New task management systems, such as Asana or Microsoft’s Wunderlist, are lightweight in comparison to typical project management software and offer intuitive and flexible user interfaces. These systems are built from the bottom up with collaboration in mind. Team members can not only track their own tasks but can share tasks with others. 

If the primary point of friction is getting work done in multi-silo teams, then shared task management tools may fit the bill.

Social Content Management Systems

Traditional content management systems have been adding a host of social collaboration features. Microsoft has added so much “social” to SharePoint that the border between SharePoint and Yammer, its enterprise social network, has blurred. Social content management system's advantage lies in the built-in advanced document management features plus the support for complex workflows. 

If the team needs traditional workflows and document management, but wants a more collaborative environment, look to products such as SharePoint.

Enterprise Social Networks

Enterprise social networks are in many ways the meta-application of the collaboration field. Packed with almost every imaginable collaborative feature, an enterprise social network creates entire collaborative environments for teams to work within. Some, such as SAP Jam and Jive’s Jive-n, have added features to automate the creation of workspaces that include data, business object, content and file, and idea sharing along with a plethora of communications options. 

When a team needs a separate, controlled space to conduct collaborative work, an enterprise social network is likely necessary. This is especially true for ongoing company functions such as human resources and sales as well as recurring project work that is more freeform than is typical of structured workflows.

Social collaboration isn't magic and social collaboration software is no wand. Do the up front work of understanding what inhibits cross-silo collaboration and then pick a product that solves those problems.

Title image CC BY-SA 2.0 by  ZeroOne