band tuning up
PHOTO: Courtney Kenady

Many ingredients go into making collaboration sustainable in an organization, including having the right tools and the right governance model. Having the right skills and competencies are also key, with training sometimes required so employees can optimally collaborate. 

We've seen a number of articles, formal programs and approaches introduced around the topic of digital literacy in recent years, and the use of collaborative tools is a common feature across the board. In Elizabeth Marsh’s excellent digital literacy framework for the workplace, “collaborate” is one of 16 attributes an employee needs:

“The skills to work productively and effectively with others as part of a virtual team or community, including establishing trust and shared ownership.”

What Skills Do Collaboration Teams Need?

Businesses who want to sustain collaboration not only need to consider the skills of employees, but also the skills of those tasked with managing collaboration, promoting its usage and with responsibility for the platforms and tools used. Don't underestimate the importance of stewardship to successful collaboration. We can see at an organization like Lloyds Banking Group successful collaboration is down to the team responsible for the platform.

The teams put in charge of collaboration don’t usually come equipped with all the skills they need. Traditionally, IT functions have found themselves in charge of collaboration, a pattern that still holds true as Microsoft Teams is rolled out. Increasingly, Internal Communications can also find themselves in charge of collaboration, particularly if a more social or engagement-led platform like Workplace by Facebook is being used. Sometimes a Knowledge Management (KM) function is responsible.

Neither the traditional training for IT managers or communications managers covers the kind of niche skills that help to guide collaboration from the center, so often skills are picked up experientially or simply not executed. KM teams may have more formal training in this area, but this can often be more grounded in theory than in practice.

Related Article: The Elements of Sustainable Collaboration

A Skills Matrix for Collaboration

Leading organizations need to better consider how they train and equip those responsible for collaboration. The key question to consider is what actual skills are needed and then, if any action is required to plug the gap either through training or bringing in external resources. 

In the Spark Trajectory Skills Matrix (an open source competency framework that everybody can view and use), we set out to define a framework covering the competencies required to successfully run a digital workplace. We left out the softer, widespread skills that everybody needs (e.g. strong communication skills), as well as the product- and platform-specific knowledge required (e.g. the ins and outs of Microsoft Teams). Instead we focused on the specific skills and techniques that underpin successful digital workplace management, dividing these into five separate domains, one of which is dedicated to “Social and Collaboration Management.” The other four are “Content and Communication,” “Technology and IT Management,” “User Experience Design” and “Intranet and Digital Workplace.”

social and collaboration management

Within the “Social and Collaboration Management” domain, we defined nine different segments we believe are the core skills required to run a successful collaboration program. We’ve described different levels of competency (Apprentice, Practitioner and Master) and also linked out to complementary frameworks, for example from the Community Roundtable. The skills we’ve described aren’t exclusive, and teams may need to include elements from outside the domain. (You may also disagree about the skills areas we’ve included — if so, contribute to the next Skills Matrix version via our website.)

Related Article: A Competency Framework for Intranet and Digital Workplace Teams 

Collaboration Requires a Variety of Skills

The skills covered reflect in part the very different types of collaboration that happen within organizations. Innovation and ideation initiatives can be very distinct from Communities of Practice and have their own specific sets of practices. Employee advocacy is also quite different (and some of you will define it as more “social” than collaboration) in its execution.

Skills associated with collaboration also include areas that traditionally come under the KM banner. These skills often drive long-term value and also make everyday collaboration easier and far more sustainable. Tacit knowledge management ensures the capture and use of important knowledge, particularly in Communities of Practice. The way we categorize expertise is also key in team formation and creating opportunities for collaboration by effectively linking subject matter experts to those with needs. Effective curation and tagging are also vital to drive more social interaction and also ensure the findability of contributions.

Community management is now established as a profession in its own right. Leading organizations such as Bosch have been successful in institutionalizing community management as a recognized competency, creating career paths but also training individual community managers responsible for their own community spaces. Because the term “Community management” is wide, we split it into categories including "Community development" and “Moderation, facilitation and conflict resolution.” The ability to also drive collaboration skills to those responsible for each individual community or team space is recognized with the need for “Facilitator training and support.”

Related Article: Surviving the Team Collaboration Platform Invasion

Don’t Forget the Competencies for Collaboration

As digital workplace professionals we tend to focus on outcomes, then sometimes good practices, but rarely skills. We don’t always consider the competencies that underpin what we do in our roles. When it comes to collaboration, the twin tactic of upskilling the team responsible for driving collaboration, as well as the wider workforce, can help make collaboration more successful, sustainable and valuable.