musical duo playing together
PHOTO: Cole Hutson

Collaboration is on the rise, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. The social technologies that facilitate collaboration have moved beyond stand-alone tools and have become integrated into day-to-day workflows. But in spite of the touted benefits of collaboration — with promises of improved productivity, innovation and more — some collaboration efforts stall in their tracks while others become mired in collaboration overload.

What steps can businesses take to reap the benefits of collaboration — both asynchronous and in real time — and increase participation in these efforts? Our March Tweet Jam dove into those topics and more.

What It Takes for Collaboration to Succeed

Forrester researchers recently wrote that “collaboration success hinges on effective change management” (fee charged). Our panelists identified other elements that businesses need to put in place for effective collaboration (as well as a few reasons why roadblocks occur) including sponsorship, ownership, trust and clear goal-setting.

Question 1: Why does the success rate for collaboration fluctuate so much?

Our Distributed Organizations

As companies increasingly allow employees to work from home, if only part of the time, the need for strong collaboration and the tools to support it become even more evident. But real-time collaboration doesn’t only help distributed teams, it can also aid communication and knowledge-sharing for teams of people sitting in the same office.

Whether your workforce is distributed or collocated, your tools must be easy to use and fit for purpose in order to support your employees in their work.

Question 2: How does the increasingly distributed nature of companies impact real-time collaboration?

Pitfalls of ‘Always On’ Expectations

Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, introduced the concept of “deep work” in his 2016 book of the same name. He argued the notifications, pop-ups, instant messages and other distractions of the modern workplace make it difficult to maintain the attention necessary to do our jobs.

So how can businesses balance the need for contact and collaboration with the need for sustained attention and quiet? Or is it not up to the workplace to make this possible? Should individual employees be expected to set their own parameters? Some panelists recommended a more active role for management, while others recommended people turn off notifications when they need to focus.

Question 3: What steps can organizations take to balance expectations of 'always on' with need for uninterrupted time to focus?

Collaboration Tools Run Wild

When left unmoderated, collaboration tools such as Slack can become a virtual Wild West as new channels are created without a clear purpose, teams branch off into closed conversations and more.

The general consensus was that community management is the key to maintaining order, imparting best practices and recognizing when a group has outlived its usefulness.

Question 4: How do you handle things like Slack creep, where different groups and channels become hard to manage?

Balancing Team Needs With Organizational Needs

Companies face a dilemma: They want to give their employees a range of collaboration tools to choose from, in part in recognition of the fact that individual workers will know which tools are right for them and in part to avoid shadow IT, but they also want to facilitate cross-organizational interaction and learning at scale and avoid tool creep. How to achieve that balance? The only consensus answer was “it depends.”

Question 5: How do you balance the collaboration needs of teams with those of the business as a whole?

Collaboration Metrics to Watch

Panelists shared a number of metrics that businesses could monitor, but they all agreed that measuring the effectiveness of collaboration is a tricky task. Many models are available, but what it comes down to is how collaboration supports your overall business goals in the long term, rather than any signs of short-term efficacy (or failure).

Question 6: How do you measure the efficacy of collaboration? What metrics do you watch?

To read another take on the Tweet Jam, see Greg Moran’s “5 Key Insights to Avoid Common Pitfalls of Real-Time Collaboration Adoption.”