“We need better collaboration.” That phrase has become frequently used in a corporate setting but what exactly does it mean and is it any more important now than it was in the past? Here are some of my thoughts why I believe collaboration, and particularly social collaboration, in business today is more of a survival trait than a buzzword.
I have recently read an amusing observation that collaboration is like teenage sex as:
- everyone is talking about it,
- everyone thinks everybody is doing it, and
- in reality, nobody is doing it very well.
Collaboration is what it says on the tin – people and teams working together, usually towards a common goal. It is about combining knowledge, experience, expertise, simply our intellect to create better ideas and move the business forward.
Didn’t we call this teamwork? Sure, teamwork is still key but advancements in technology have changed the game. Technology is now helping us build global connections and combine ideas of many different individuals around the world. And technology is also shifting collaboration towards social collaboration.
In my opinion, social collaboration should matter to any business looking to maintain its competitive edge now and in the foreseeable future. More social collaboration leads to more ideas. More ideas lead to more innovation. Innovation leads to better products or services, which in turn leads to higher customer satisfaction. And that leads to positive outcomes, such as more revenue and profit, growth, a bigger impact on society: it simply results in success. So you’d think everyone would be pursuing social collaboration; however, that is not the case.
So, what is preventing particularly big enterprises from establishing strong and effective social collaboration?
There can be a lot of reasons. First, the word ‘social’ itself can be a barrier and many fear it thinking it may disrupt their business. In addition, silo thinking can be a limiting factor as a result of people being stuck in their old ways of working as well as lack of IT systems encouraging collaboration and engagement across the business. Another blocker may be lack of effective internal communication, which I believe is a key component of social collaboration, fully focusing on the internal workforce. Last but not least, a rigid hierarchical structure can hinder collaboration progress as it conflicts with the non-hierarchical world of social collaboration where everybody can create and consume content.
I believe we all can see that IT technology is an enabler of social collaboration. It is very positive that companies see value in technology that will help them get better aligned, with the two main drivers for adoption generally being the need to solve communication issues by giving people an easy way to connect and create discussions, and the agility they offer across entire teams to stay informed.
However, technology alone will never make collaboration happen. Great collaboration involves people working with other people, so they must accept the tool and use it. Some may find these platforms more of a hindrance than help first and may refuse to adopt them. This boils down to changing the way we work and subsequently corporate culture, and introducing a new way to share knowledge and expertise within an organisation. That will be effective only if also driven from the top, by the leaders of the organisation; then it will become part of the DNA of the company. It takes time though – you don’t get a collaborative mindset nor become a collaborative organisation overnight. That’s why it matters to let it also grow naturally: bottom-up, top-down, lateral, you name it.
In terms of tools available in the market, there are many that can improve knowledge sharing and build the social collaboration spirit into ways of working. One of them is for example Yammer that works quite well in my company – Yammer helps break down communication barriers, support sharing experience and expertise, find the right people to work with worldwide, forge productive business relationships beyond natural working group, and basically transform employee working experience.
Social collaboration is ultimately about people and empowering employees in a people-centric way to effectively collaborate. The digital age naturally helps engage all stakeholders – customers, partners and employees – and keep them engaged while working together from their mobile devices from anywhere in the world.
In many companies, teams are global, the workplace is virtual. The more multicultural, multilingual, multinational you are, the harder it is to achieve knowledge exchange. Social collaboration is not only the glue holding together people, data, content and processes to simplify work, it is key to driving knowledge sharing, learning and ultimately innovation and growth.
As a business solution, social has evolved into an important tool for addressing business challenges across the organisation. Moving forward, it will be more crucial to rethink practices to ensure that they include a social element aligned with a company business strategy and its objectives as social will simply become ‘how business works’.
By Tereza Urbánková