Journalist Thomas Friedman's best-selling book “The World is Flat” explains how the flattening of the world in the 21 century impacted countries, companies, communities and individuals and how they have adapted. 

Friedman posits that globalization has given us more opportunity for success. He claims, “When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.” 

Though we are more interconnected today than ever before, barriers still hinder us from complete productivity and efficiency. In my 15 years as a business professional, I have seen many companies struggle with collaboration challenges. I group them into three categories: Human Constructs, Departmental Constructs and Organizational Constructs. 

Here's my take on the tools and processes we can employ to overcome these distinct challenges:

Human Constructs

Let’s face it: it's human nature not to share. That’s why from the toddler years on, parents and teachers encourage sharing — of toys, snacks, feelings. 

The same is true in the workplace today — employees are very much encouraged to share — but it doesn’t always happen. The “silo mentality” is the mindset of not sharing information with others and has been a growing pain for organizations. Especially in the global workplace, organizations have to collaborate across silos created by regions, time zones and geographies. 

Managing dispersed teams present huge challenges which require a clearly defined team purpose and roadmap to clarify everyone’s goals, responsibilities and resources, and establish a more unified mentality. Setting up a communication plan lets everyone know what needs to be communicated and how it will be done. Utilizing technology — be it email, instant messaging, phone, video feeds and/or slide presentations — make collaborating with remote teams productive. New applications are being developed every single day (think Instagram and Skype) that make collaboration, sharing and crowdsourcing easier.

Departmental Constructs

Even within the same company, borders exist across departments. Organizations implement different platforms to ensure company-wide collaboration through common data management and analytical-based dashboards. 

Data management platforms (DMP) serve as digital data repositories — collecting large amounts of both unstructured and structured data and turning them into useful information. An effective DMP creates a unified environment that provides access to consistent, accurate and timely data. Analytical-based dashboards can be used to understand trends and predict patterns and opportunities. 

Collaboration is the whole reason why some organizations exist. Organizations like Wordpress, Pinterest, vBulletin and XenForo provide collaboration through forums, communities and sites where non-native content can be shared and knowledge can be distributed. 

Some organizational departments lend themselves well to a collaborative approach and produce valuable results. MadTech, the collaboration between marketing and advertising departments with technology, is considered one of the hottest topics in business today — because it enables for the collaboration of marketing and advertising in order to deliver a more effective message to the end consumer.

Organizational Constructs

Business is changing, business models are changing, value propositions are changing — and business must adapt. Just ask Blockbuster and Kodak. Or ask businesses operating in the new sharing economy like Uber, Alibaba and Facebook. 

Prosperous, leading companies collaborate with others with like-minded values, passion and expertise. They provide a service that is user-enabling, clear and simple. This sharing concept, often called communities of practice, can be done online, in-person, or in-app. With this connection, people can share their knowledge and experiences and improve their organization’s performance as a result. 

We are seeing more and more communities of practice in workplaces. Whether online sites or face-to-face meetings — different departments are collaborating and learning from each other. Meetings often include featured speakers presenting a case study on a recent project and what the team experienced, how it was handled, and what lessons were learned. This can help teams be better prepared and informed on how to manage their own projects.

Collaboration across customer bases also drives business growth. By thinking like the customer and working with other organizations they buy from, businesses can achieve bottom line growth. By engaging with the brands your customers choose, developing personas to understand your customer, and being at the events where your customers will be, you can develop a better understanding of how to collaborate with your customer base. 

One brand that does this very well is Disney, with its ability to collect feedback from its target persona (young families) in a variety of manners (surveys, online feedback, forums, field marketing events, etc.). Customer communities also bring customer knowledge to the forefront. 

We're also increasingly seeing customers use online forums to contact other customers to get fastest responses and “customer point-of-view.” This communication has become a form of crowdsourcing and can be seen at work in large tech companies such as Apple and Samsung. Their company-hosted sites allow customers to help others by providing additional support, thereby serving as an extension of the company’s own customer service. This has encouraged customers to share their knowledge and even become experts in the company’s products.

Deconstructing the human, departmental and organizational thought processes of the past is where the greatest business opportunity lies. Though many borders exist for companies, people have found numerous solutions to knock them down. Collaboration and communication are key to dealing with this problem and establishing greater efficiency, productivity and change.