The most common types of manager resistance to enterprise collaboration that I've come across in my work are: not a priority, uncertainty about tangible ROI, uncertainty about overall business value, and lack of a supportive culture.

Let’s take a look at each one in more detail and explore how to deal with them.

Not a Priority

I have found that often this response happens not because it’s not a priority, but because there is a lack of education about the benefits that can be achieved and because of a high degree of fear. In these situations a few things can be done.

First, I recommend drumming up support from employees and colleagues throughout the organization. Surveys, focus groups and one-on-one meetings with employees can be an effective way to show managers that this should be a priority.

Second, sitting down and speaking with several managers one on one to understand their fears, concerns and perceived benefits is also effective.

Third, I recommend education and training on what exactly “all this” means to the organization. Several hours devoted to introducing the concept, what other organizations are doing, case studies and potential benefits and risks and then brainstorming some potential next steps can be very effective.

Simply approaching someone and saying, “We want to invest in emergent collaborative software” doesn't mean much to many people, and so “It’s not a priority” is a very easy answer to give. But by focusing on solving very real and tangible existing problems with new tools and strategies, the chances of support are much greater. Showing practical use cases for collaboration is also effective. Focus on existing problems within the organization that can be solved with these new tools and strategies.

Uncertainty about Tangible ROI


This is a very common form of resistance, and it’s quite understandable. Why would an executive want to invest in something without understanding the financial impact it will have on the organization?

Then again, there are many investments organizations make without clearly understanding the financial return: Billboards, print ads, printers for the office, phone systems and television commercials are all difficult to show a return on, but that shouldn't be an excuse.

I’m not going to lie and say that I have an ROI formula or a simple way to calculate exactly what the ROI of collaboration is. In fact, there is only one formula for ROI, which is (gain from investment – cost of investment). Instead, I can point to lots of collaboration case studies and examples which show a very clear ROI.

Uncertainty about Overall Value and How It Will Meet Business Objectives

This type of response typically means that an organization is considering deploying a tool first and then will find a problem for the tool to solve. I have found that when organizations use the approach of mapping a business problem to a desired result, it becomes quite clear what the overall value is and how it will meet business objectives.

Always start with a business problem; don’t worry about technology yet. That’s like having the dessert before the appetizer (which I do quite a lot). I guarantee that virtually every organization in the world can benefit from effective enterprise collaboration.

The Company Culture Is Not Supportive

We keep hearing about the culture of a company and the impact that it can have on collaboration, but what exactly does that mean?

Culture is one of those things that is a bit hard to define, but a good way to look at it is like the personality of the organization, the behaviors of the employees, and the shared understandings and assumptions of how people work, behave and communicate. Therefore, if an organization is very competitive, fragmented and non-communicative, it will be much harder to adopt a set of collaboration tools and strategies.

Many companies have run into this obstacle because they assume that tools alone can help change the culture of a company; this is false (although technology can help change culture when done in conjunction with other things mentioned below).

If the company culture does not support collaboration, then you already know what needs to be done before reading the next sentence: you have to change the company culture. An entire book can be written on that topic alone, but culture is typically instilled by leaders of an organization and so they have the power to change it.

One clear example of this can be seen at financial institutions that typically promote and reward the employees bring in the most money (these are usually the VPs or SVPs). While these employees are great at selling they are oftentimes poor at managing, yet they are the ones who are leading many companies.

Changing the culture can involve things such as incorporating a new set of public values that encourage collaboration, rewarding employees for collaborating with each other and helping each other, leading by example, and removing cubicles that segment employees. Non supportive collaborative cultures at organizations can destroy efforts to build a collaborative organization; therefore, they must be addressed.

Image courtesy of niroworld (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more by Jacob? Check out The Four Types of Collaboration Deployments