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Collaboration in the Enterprise

In this article we look at the three impediments to enterprise collaboration, how to overcome them, and the role of technology in helping to promote a collaborative culture.


Collaboration has been described as “the essence of team work and probably the most important reason businesses build teams in the first place.” Despite this, many companies still struggle to enable effective collaboration in the workplace. There are several reasons that enterprises might find a disconnect with employees. Company culture may not support collaboration, or the technology within the enterprise may not be sufficient to engage employees.

Technology researchers at Gartner back this up. According to Jeffrey Mann, vice president of research for the firm,

“Because we have access to very good tools in our private lives we expect the same level of functionality and performance in business.”

Whilst we’ve seen a lot of changes take place with regards to enterprise technology in recent years, often it’s the case that employees have to work with legacy systems that don’t offer the tools to enable collaboration without fuss. Often, legacy apps just aren’t good enough to support shared workspaces and video conferencing, for example.

However, even modern tools can be underused in the enterprise. This is especially true when a set of tools – such as social tools – are ‘bolted on’ to existing systems without any thought given to how employees conduct their day-to-day work.

Three Impediments to Collaboration Success

According to Forbes, there are three main challenges that enterprises face when making changes to culture and technology to enable collaboration.

  1. Unclear goals
  2. Lack of a transparent decision-making process
  3. Management not sticking to the process

And the larger the enterprise, the more pronounced these challenges are likely to be. In order to enable collaboration it’s necessary to invest time in sound planning and to involve employees in the process from inception. This increases transparency, raises awareness of new collaboration tools and ensures that executives have to stick to the plan.

ZD Net states that,

“The social enterprise is about culture, management and process. It’s not about software.”

Whilst of course software will play a part in enabling collaboration, without effective management and a culture that supports it, it’s unlikely to be successful. ZD Net goes on to say,

“Social without business process integration won’t work.”

This is because adding social tools onto the network alone isn’t enough to ensure that employees will use them. Add to this that without a clear business goal for adding collaboration tools, there’s no good reason for a social project to go ahead. So whilst employees want and will use social tools in their working life, there has to be a reason for them to do so and this has to be made clear to them through the process of adding these tools to the network.

Growing Industry

Social intranets are a rapidly growing industry sector and it’s thought that it will be worth 4.6bn by late 2015. The industry has matured now and two-thirds of businesses now use social technology for marketing and related processes.

Further to this,

  • 59% of enterprises use social tools to engage with customers
  • 49% use social media to advertise
  • By 2016, the majority of large enterprises will use social tools on the network

However, as ZD Net go on to point out,

“Through 2015, 80 percent of social business efforts will not achieve the intended benefits due to inadequate leadership and an overemphasis on technology, even as enterprise social networks become the primary communication channels for noticing, deciding, or acting on information relevant to carrying out work.”

Transparency is Key to Success

What can be done to overcome this? As discussed, sound planning and transparency are key in ensuring that a company culture can be fostered that encourages employees to participate in collaboration. Technology and the tools chosen also play a key role, as does leadership. It will be necessary to ensure that when people focus on the fact that they have a job to do, they are aware of how the technological tools can enable them to do this through collaboration.

Social tools on the intranet are often discounted due to a lack of knowledge in the employee, who either doesn’t know that they’re there, or doesn’t know how to use them. Sometimes, for example, conflicts occur within teams due to a lack of effective document management. For truly effective collaboration, teams need a clear purpose and a leader who is willing to articulate it.

Build Strong Teams

With this in mind, for effective collaboration to take place, it’s necessary to create strong teams, who can work towards a common goal. They should be aware of the business processes and goals that are a part of the overall equation, and they should be given the right tools to communicate and collaborate with other employees (regardless of department or geographical location), customers, suppliers and other partners.

Evan Rosen, author of The Culture of Collaboration states that enterprises that foster a collaborative business culture “increasingly develop reputations surrounding their ability to collaborate.”

“Those that are perceived to be collaborative often find it easier to recruit top talent and partner with other successful companies,” he says.

However, it’s no small feat to ensure that employees are on track and utilising the tools on offer.

“Too often,” Rosen goes on to say, “organizations cultivate a star culture and the media reinforces the system by celebrating individual achievement. Unfortunately, a culture based on rising to the top and receiving individual rewards and recognition frequently results in competitiveness, secrecy, and in many cases, less then optimal results.”

Thus, enterprises looking to enable a collaborative culture need to place emphasis on teams and team work, rather than on individual achievements. This encourages collaboration and working harmony, as the team strives to ensure that it gets the job done satisfactorily.

Value and Reward Teams, Not Individuals

Almost all projects carried out within an enterprise will be a result of team work, so the trick is to ensure that all members of the team feel rewarded and valued. This can be incentivised through bonus schemes, but it’s also useful to allow employees to feel individual, personal job satisfaction. This could be done through training, which employees can undertake at their leisure, and through knowledge sharing within the enterprise.

Social tools such as profiles, wikis and blogs can help to enable this. Not only does it allow for a repository of useful knowledge to be built up by the enterprise itself, but it also gives the employee a sense that they have a voice within the business and that they are valued and trusted.

These also allow for relationships to be built and fostered between employees and executives. In turn, this allows for more effective collaboration between those people, as they can easily be found on the intranet through personal work profiles and the knowledge that they have added. This also means that it’s easier to approach an employee armed with the knowledge of what they can do, which department they work in and so on.

Build an External Culture of Collaboration Too

It’s not enough however to build teams alone, even those that understand the importance of collaborative working. It’s also necessary to build a culture that understands that external collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners is vital to the overall mix.

An enterprise that enables collaboration both internally and externally can be judged as one that has carried this out successfully. In order for a culture to emerge and become entrenched within normal working practices, it should become second nature to collaborate with every business-related contact.

In order to do this, enterprises must,

  • Define and build upon a shared purpose
  • Cultivate a culture of contribution
  • Develop processes that enable employees to work together in flexible yet disciplined ways
  • Create an infrastructure where collaboration is valued and rewarded

This means that it’s necessary to be clear about where the business is going for every department. This allows employees to have a clearer focus and understand what needs to be done and how collaboration can help. Many enterprises inadvertently discourage collaboration as they fail to create consistent formal processes for collaboration.

To overcome this, enterprises should,

  1. Train employees in how and when to collaborate
  2. Make collaboration an integral part of an employee’s role
  3. Recognise those employees who effectively collaborate and reward them

Tools and Technology to Enable Collaboration

For an employee to be able to collaborate effectively, they must be given the correct tools to do so. The humble company intranet has changed beyond all recognition in the last decade and now, rather than being a repository for knowledge, it’s a resource that can help to build relationships and share knowledge.

In order to enable collaboration, the company intranet should include tools to help foster a sharing culture, and to enable a simple means of communicating.

It should include:

  • A suite of social tools – IM, wikis, blogs, profiles, shared workspaces
  • Training capabilities – such as an elearning platform and LMS
  • Communication tools – to enable mobility, video conferencing

Ideally, any intranet project should be supported by the CEO and other top-level executive to ensure that employees recognise the relevance and importance to the enterprise. This, alongside excellent planning and transparency, will make for a better chance that workers will engage with the intranet and use it as intended. Executives should be amongst the first to offer a strong presence on the intranet too, so that employees can be led by example. This can be further strengthened by ensuring that documentation regarding company policies – with regards to governance, for example – are placed on the intranet where they can be accessed by everyone.

Build Trust on the Intranet

It’s also necessary to build trust through the intranet so that employees feel confident in sharing knowledge and collaborating.

This can be done by,

  • Attributing content – providing a link to the original author of content ensures that it’s trusted by others that access it and the author gets some sense of personal satisfaction. As well as the author’s name, their department and a link to their profile should be added so that those accessing the content can easily ask questions, or even collaborate to improve the content.
  • Add dates – this allows employees to track the life of the content and see when it’s been updated, or whether it needs to be.
  • Ensuring leaders are visible – team leaders should maintain a constant presence on the intranet, especially in the early days of adoption. This should take the form of discussion, rather than just adding blogs or wikis, in order to demonstrate to teams that the intranet is seen to be central to everything work-related.

Bringing it all Together

Collaboration in the enterprise is valuable. It’s thought that those enterprises which enable it successfully tend to perform better across the board and tend to be more innovative. For enterprises that have not yet enabled it, collaboration can be difficult to implement as it depends on a few factors.

These include company culture, transparency, alignment with business processes and goals and building trust. Added to these must be the correct tools to enable people to carry out their jobs more effectively and to communicate and collaborate easily. This requires sound planning, which should involve executives and leaders from the start. Employees should be made aware of the project and feedback gathered from them from the beginning.

For example, an initial step in creating an intranet plan should be to gather feedback on what employees like and dislike about the existing intranet. This should also ask what tools employees would like to see implemented on the intranet. This allows employees to get involved and will result in a higher level of engagement when it comes to deployment.

A good social intranet will encourage collaboration through the tools that it offers and the visibility of other employees on it. Workers should be encouraged to create content and to partake in discussions for best results. Essentially, good collaboration though is achieved through making it central to many of the enterprise’s communication practices. Once it becomes second nature to employees, it can be considered a collaborative enterprise and with that, comes success in terms of finances, employee satisfaction, customer service and knowledge sharing.

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