Collaboration is turning into a bit of a buzz word these days. Organizations are now turning to collaboration to help solve their business problems. However, before they do that, organizations need to keep in mind these 5 myths of collaboration to make sure they don't steer themselves in the wrong direction.

According to a recent poll that CMSWire conducted, internal enterprise collaboration topped the list of organizational priorities for 2011 followed by "refining CMS and web engagement tools and practices" and "improvements around enterprise information and document management" in a very distant second and third respectively. This is certainly exciting to see and you can read Barb’s analysis and review of the poll for more information.

Towards the end of 2010 we also looked at the overall business impact of collaboration and reviewed a few key reports which were published. However, there are a few collaboration myths we should address and dispel before discussions within organizations around collaboration continue.

Myth 1: Collaboration is New

Collaboration has existed since the time when cavemen had to hunt together. Collaboration is not new yet we see a lot of buzz and hype around it as if it were something that was just being introduced into our organizations. In fact most of what we hear about Enterprise 2.0 is all around collaboration. The reality is that employees already collaborate daily at the water cooler, when they get lunch together, when they stop by each other’s desks and when they email each other.

No, collaboration is not new at all. What is new are the means and tools that employees can use to collaborate with one another, that is all. Now, instead of sending an email to a colleague an employee can pull together a private group or community online where they can work together to complete a project; as opposed to sending countless emails back and forth.

Keep in mind that here we are strictly talking about collaboration within the enterprise but collaboration also happens between a brand and its customers or perhaps a brand and its suppliers (something we are going to be discussing soon).

Myth 2: Collaboration Will Solve the Business Problems

Assuming that collaboration will solve all of your business problems is dangerous. Morten T. Hansen, wrote a book on collaboration and through his research over 15 years identifies that collaboration does not make sense for every type of project -- in fact employees can oftentimes fall into the trap of over collaborating with one another.

The example that Morten uses in his book is around Sony, which tried to develop a competing product to the iPod several years ago but failed because Sony management attempted to collaborate cross-departmentally on a project when a hostile internal culture existed. Sony had a culture of competition where departments tried to out-do each other, collaboration was not a part of the Sony culture and so the attempted iPod competitor failed miserably.

Myth 3: Everyone Wants to Collaborate

We keep hearing about organizations deploying collaboration tools and internal social networks. Best Buy, Dell, Booz Allen Hamilton and large Aerospace companies are just a few that have deployed such tools. The problem is that not all employees want to share information about themselves or what they are working on. Some people choose to remain private and not participate in these new methods of collaboration. There is nothing wrong with this however and employees shouldn’t be penalized or fired as a result. 

Myth 4: Deploy the Tools and the Rest Will Follow

There’s a quote I once heard at a conference which goes something like, “If you believe tools are the answer then you are one (a tool).” A bit harsh but true. Deploying collaboration tools and platforms are certainly a part of the solution but they are by no means THE solution.

Tools are just that, tools. In order for an organization to succeed with using tools there needs to be a supporting corporate culture, a strategy, an implementation plan and a clear understanding of the business value and problems that these tools are hopefully going to solve.

Myth 5: Collaboration is the Business Driver

This is again going back to Morten T. Hansen, who says that the whole point of collaboration is not collaboration in itself but a way to solve a problem and improve productivity and efficiency. In other words employees shouldn’t collaborate just for the sake of collaboration.

Morten actually describes disciplined and effective collaboration as the types of collaboration that organizations should strive for. This means understanding when collaboration makes sense and what the business value of collaboration is. Morten also describes the types of leaders that are needed to help instill the collaborative culture within organizations (T-leaders).

Collaboration in the networked enterprise is indeed valuable. However we need to be realistic about what collaboration is, what is required to make it succeed and when it is necessary. Based on what I have seen these appear to be the most common myths around collaboration. I'm sure you might know of a few others? If so, please share your collaboration myth in the comments.