Over the past weeks I’ve hosted various workshops on the subject of the Digital Workplace and Advanced Intranet. There was one thing all the workshops had in common: the participants suddenly were unclear what “collaboration” actually meant to them. For everyone it was clear that today’s intranets (not even close to work critical, rather an editorial graveyard) had to evolve to become the first step in the evolution of a Digital Workplace. It has to grow together with efforts and initiatives around collaboration, which are managed separately in almost all companies.

What does collaboration stand for?

It really depends who you ask. For IT departments collaboration usually is driven by the bells and whistles of a (social) collaboration platform. Their perspective is to make everything available so people can pick and choose what might suit their requirements. For business functions collaboration in a lot of instances is the ability to have at least documents in one place and use live collaboration abilities (aka chat, desktop sharing etc.) to fight data redundancies and travel efforts (and cost). For the management collaboration often ends up in the field of innovation (one big family striving for world domination) or cross-functional and -border synergies.

Get 10 people in one room and you have 15 opinions on collaborations…and probably 17 definitions.

After spending time to gather the aspects that could define the field of collaboration and trying to determine where the “act of collaboration” would actually create value participants of all workshops ended up with one common denominator:

Collaboration is more than the fact that people work work together and share files in the same place. It’s about creating assets that can be re-used by others and utilise the expertise that was created in previous team efforts. It’s about making sure that what we do happens in accordance with the framework (#FluffyHandcuffs) that is required by the organisation. It’s about connecting to experience and expertise of others that might help us to be faster or better in quality.

collaboration aspects

I am pretty sure that all readers of this post will say: yeah, but that’s totally obvious. Believe me, it’s not.

The biggest luxury in a project I have experienced recently is a pre-study that has “define what collaboration means to us” as it’s only objective. As a side effect, and this is becoming obvious already, it will create a coalition around the subject because we were able to connect to a lot of business stakeholders in the process of defining the field.

A final recommendation for the process of specifying “collaboration”: make “what is it not?” and “why is it special to us?” part of the evaluation. It will help you to scope what you’re doing against other initiatives – or build bridges to them since running them separate would cause disconnection and redundancy.

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