Two heads are better than one. That's the given wisdom -- and what most of us believe. But if as individuals we understand the importance of collaboration, then why do organizations have such a difficult time fostering it within their own employees?

The Need for Enterprise Collaboration

Depending on who you talk to, the need for enterprise collaboration is different. How and why collaboration is encouraged and implemented depends on the types of problems a business is trying to solve. 

Enterprise Collaboration should always happens in the context of some business need, whether it's addressing a crisis or achieving a high-level goal. Here are a few examples of how collaboration can help solve a business problem:

  • Transmit policies and culture to new employees
  • Leverage disparate skills easily during projects
  • Quickly find people with expert knowledge
  • Knowledge retention during employee transitions
  • Idea and innovation development/fostering
  • Reduce travel costs for distributed teams
  • Build and sustain employee morale

Enterprise Collaboration is Not New

The truth is, most of us have been collaborating within our organizations in some manner for a long time. We've always had teams working on projects, participated in focus groups for HR or other divisions, even started communities of interest and communities of practice. 

It's how we collaborate that is changing, with so many new tools and technologies thanks to Web 2.0 and social media to enable enterprise collaboration.

As Sandy Kemsley put it: "Collaboration is already going on in enterprises, and always has: all that Enterprise 2.0 does is give us some nicer tools for doing what we’ve already been doing via word of mouth, email, and other methods."

It's also about how much more important collaboration has become. It is now said that being social (and thus collaborating in some form) is a competitive differentiator if implemented to solve real business problems.

Collaboration is Social

Today, most people's definition of collaboration is fundamentally being social. And the technologies we choose to use in the enterprise are being driven largely by the consumer tools that we use on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, many organizations are pushing hard to implement these new tools and technologies without taking the time to understand how they can be best employed. You can't force the tools on employees. What you can do is make them available, demonstrate their value and incrementally foster a culture of using them.

Kemsley states, "I strongly believe that you first have to make people care about their work before they will engage in creative collaboration, regardless of the shiny tools that you give them." One would expect that if an employee is helping to solve a specific business problem, then they will care about their work. This is certainly part of the equation. 

But it's about more than making them care that they are solving real problems and thus contributing to the organization's bottom line. It's also about having an open culture that encourages participation. And this is often where organizations fall short -- the top down mentality has deep roots.

Why Won't You Work Together?

It's fun to note that as much as current internet fads are fostering a sharing culture, it can still be a challenge to get your employees to participate in similar internal activities. We see a number of reasons for this resistance.

Employee Culture

Larger organizations often have issues encouraging participation simply because it's not how things have historically been done. Additionally some people are afraid to give up their knowledge for fear that they will lose importance to the organization, or worse, be let go. Give up your knowledge and you aren't that important anymore, the logic goes.

This can be especially true in organizations who are bringing in a younger, more agile and sometimes cheaper workforce. These new employees don't have the years of knowledge that your older employees have. But if you capture the seasoned employees' knowledge in digital form, then you can feed it to the new-comers and more quickly relieve yourself of your more expensive staff members. This is, perhaps, what many of your current employees believe.

In other cases, some employees don't like putting themselves out there as topics experts because they have enough work to do without having to answer a million questions from other people. 

Another issue you may have to deal with is the generation gap in your user base. Different generations collaborate differently. This means you have to consider the needs/requirements of your employees when developing your enterprise collaboration strategy as well.

Notice we don't say here that millennials are all about Web 2.0 tools and older generations aren't. What we mean is that different generations may gravitate naturally to different collaboration tools. You have to be aware of these differences and plan your technology strategy accordingly.

Changing Processes

Business processes are a key element in any organization and some processes have been in place for a long time. In order to implement technologies to support enterprise collaboration, these processes may have to change. Says Ross Dawson,

...there are many challenges as well as opportunities in implementing Enterprise 2.0. This is both due to cultural issues, but also because changes to processes and structures are required to tap the full potential of these approaches, and organizational change is never easy.


Politics can also play a role in the success of collaboration. Organizations that are big on structure and following the "lines of communication" will find it challenging to implement collaborative solutions that put everyone on an equal playing field. In these cases, top down change is often the key to success -- though it's much easier said than done. Shaping type-a senior management is not a job for the feint of heart.

Mind Your Great Expectations

For those of you who expect that you will get 100% participation, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Some of your employees are going to be coach potatoes, others mere browsers. It's the creators and contributors you need to plan for and support:

Learning Opportunities


Intranets — Stakeholders Must Appreciate the Participation Realities

To understand more about how to encourage participation see: Architecting Participation with Enterprise Social Media

Also read Deb LaVoy's Collaborative Culture, or the Real Enterprise 2.0.

Remember: Technology is an Enabler, Not the Solution

Before you start thinking about the latest technology you can buy or how to rebuild your Intranet, you need to outline your enterprise collaboration strategy.

Things to include in that strategy: 

  • A clear understanding of your pain points (business problems)
  • How enterprise collaboration will assist in the resolution of these problems
  • How business processes and structures may need to change to support enterprise collaboration
  • How your employees may react to these new collaborative tools
  • Metrics you can use to test whether your collaboration approaches are working


From Enterprise Collaboration – What’s Your Problem?

The Value of Enterprise 2.0 Solutions

We live in an environment of constant competition, there's a little of bit of money to be spread around to a lot of organizations offering similar products and services. To be successful organizations need to work faster, smarter and be innovative.

Enterprise 2.0 solutions support this urgent get to market need. But implementing these solutions can mean some major changes for organizations. The figure below shows how an organization will need to change to truly take advantage of these new collaborative technologies:


From What is Enterprise 2.0?

Although the market for these types of social software solutions is still fairly immature, it is constantly changing to reflect the organization's needs. Says Irwin Lazar:

What we’re seeing is a maturation of the social computing landscape. It’s no longer about “which cool new tool can I deploy” but how can I leverage these tools to improve the overall ability of those within and outside my organization to communicate and collaborate.

Tips for Encouraging Participation

There is a lot of advice out there on how you can encourage participation using Enterprise 2.0 technologies. Here are a few of these tips:

  • Mark Morrell, Intranet Manager for BT says start small, start cheap and build for tear down. In order words, don't try to do everything for everyone at once and be prepared the fail, learn from it and start again. 
  • Look for easier projects to start the balling rolling, then move on to bigger projects that involve more people.
  • Encourage you most adverse employees to participate. If you can show them the real value collaborative tools bring, you have a strong supporter that others may follow.
  • As Kemsley said above, make sure your employees love what they do, then provide tools to help them do it better.
  • Take the size of your organization into consideration, an enterprise's collaboration needs are much different from those of a small organization, which can mean different barriers to adoption, different cultures to consider and ultimately different tools. Jacob Morgan has more on this:What Buyers of Enterprise 2.0 Solutions Need to Consider Before Making a Purchase.

Some go so far as to say that if you have to do anything to encourage adoption then you aren't doing it right. This too is something to consider.

More to Come

Stay with us this month as we delve into the world of Enterprise Collaboration. We've got a number of great thinkers and practical practitioners lined-up to share their experiences and strategies for inspiring a new generation of workplace knowledge participation.