Wednesday 10 November 2010

Collaborate, but with structure

structures (untitiled II)
Originally uploaded by procsilas

Three sources of input combined for me today, each bearing a message about collaborating within a structure.

The first was Tom Davenport. In this blog post he says  "While we're all becoming familiar with tweets, profiles, writing on walls, and open online discussion, the key to turning those conversational activities into business value has been elusive. I'm becoming convinced that the way to gain value is to combine computer-based sociality with computer-based structure...... the combination of the social and structuring aspects of technology ensures that online social activities are oriented to getting work done. The addition of structure makes everyone more conscious of the work tasks at hand, which limits the desire for purely social interaction. A cultural context emerges around the system in which most people hesitate to chat about personal topics that don't involve work. Purely social applications are too social, and purely structured applications provide too much structure. Combinations of the two are where the work gets done fastest and most effectively".

The second was from an interview with Morten Hansen, where he says " to my great shock, in my first study at Hewlett Packard, or I found that some project teams did worse because they collaborated.  That changed my thinking; the quest was (now) to understand the difference between bad and good collaboration....... The key point in disciplined collaboration is to start with the end in mind: the goal of collaboration is not collaboration but better results!  This means you should only collaborate when it is the best way to improve performance.  Many times it is better to work independently.  You need to have permission to say no to collaboration."

The third was from the Cisco collaboration guide, where they distinguish a phase of collaboration experimentation and investigation, from a second phase which they call the performance phase.  They say "The investigation phase is a natural and necessary introduction to web 2.0 tools and enterprise collaboration as a means to improved operations, but organisations must move into the performance phase to reap organisation wide benefits.  In this crucial stage, organisations move from one-of collaboration efforts that help personal productivity to carefully organised, supported and broader adoption aimed at improving the way that a business works ... efforts shift from a strictly organic and opportunistic approach to a more structured and prescriptive approach to development of collaboration".
The message from all three of these is the same. Experimenting with collaboration is fine in the early stages, but sooner or later you must make a mindshift. Collaboration needs to be about business results, and it needs to be set within a structure, and applied with discipline. It needs to be focused on those areas where collaboration will make the biggest business impact, and will solve the big problems. It needs to focus on the "knowledge intensive hot-spots" which are the critical knowledge areas within your Knowledge Management Strategy. It needs to move away from "we must introduce Yammer" or "we must have personal pages" to "we need to connect the people working with our global brands, so collectively we can increase global profile" (for example).

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