Collaboration 1.0 at the heart of Enterprise 2.0 success

In a nutshell: Collaboration is about people working together. Without good people processes your collaborative efforts can’t succeed, no matter what technology you’re using. If you want success in collaboration & innovation, build the culture and processes to achieve it while you implement Enterprise 2.0 tools.

Enterprise 2.0 means “collaboration”

Let’s call a spade a spade: Enterprise 2.0 means collaborative and social web tools. Make it more complicated if you have to, but this is the heart of it. Modern web tools bring people to the forefront and enable collaborative work like never before. The technology is basically catching up with our needs and becoming more human-centered.

In a growing trend, folks are starting to replace “Enterprise 2.0” with “collaboration” when pitching social intranets and the like to executives. This is really about collaboration. But collaboration isn’t about software.

Good collaboration results in more effective use of social, collaborative tools. But with poor collaborative practices these new tools provide very little value. You’ve seen teams that have a wiki but still write reports by emailing documents back and forth. You’ve seen online discussions that produce no valuable outcomes. You’ve seen micro blogging streams that are inane and useless.

If you want to succeed at Enterprise 2.0, you’ve got to get good at collaboration.

Collaboration requires structure & clear roles

With the rise of very flexible social tools like micro blogging (Twitter, Yammer, Chatter), social networking, wikis and discussion forums, there has developed a common idea that collaboration and innovation require a lack of organization. People need freedom and flexibility to collaborate and innovate!

But that’s not true.

Structured processes, clear roles and shared expectations sit at the heart of effective collaboration. We all know this in our gut! People are complex. Put several of them in a room together and the complexity can multiply. Multiplying complexity leads to chaos, not success.

What is collaboration?

A simple definition for collaboration: Two or more people working together towards shared goals.

There are three key components of collaboration from this simple definition:

  1. People: Roles, responsibilities, leadership
  2. Working together: Processes, expectations, tools (including software)
  3. Shared goals: End results, outcomes, guiding star

Even this simple definition raises important questions about how to collaborate:

  • What are the goals?
  • How did we come up with the goals?
  • How do we know they’re really shared by all the team members?
  • How do we work together?
  • Who is responsible for what?
  • What tools do we use?
  • How do we hold each other accountable for completing work?

You can’t address these questions well without structured interactions, clear responsibilities and leadership, even if the leadership is simply in the form of facilitation.

Not everything social is collaboration

Collaboration usually happens among fairly small teams with shared goals. Company wide discussions on blogs and forums aren’t collaboration. Social networking isn’t collaboration. Micro blogging isn’t collaboration. Expertise finders aren’t collaboration. These tools may contribute to collaboration, but aren’t collaboration in and of themselves.

Not all Enterprise 2.0 tools focus on collaboration, and they don’t all need to. But without a clear approach to good collaboration, the social tools that can contribute to working together effectively won’t provide much value.

Foundations of effective collaboration

Facilitative leadership: Somebody’s got to take the steering wheel. Even if everyone on the team is helping to set the direction, you still need one person who’s got their hands on the wheel and a foot on the gas & break pedals. If the leader is a traditional team manager, she’s got to take a facilitative approach. This means building an environment for open discussion and keeping the team focused on the goals at hand. The leader also makes sure conflicts are addressed and uses the “n” “o” word sometimes.

Shared goals: If you are baking cookies and someone else is cooking a stir fry, you’re not working together. You may both be cooking, but you don’t have shared goals. Shared goals align team members’ wills and effort. When team members really share a set of goals, they can put the goals ahead of their own special interests. When this happens, you’re golden!

Clear roles: Facilitation is the first role and you need it in every meeting. If you have an online blog, forum or wiki you need a moderator, which is similar to a meeting facilitator. Each team member needs to play a clearly defined role and folks need to understand each other’s roles. Without clear roles you get duplication of efforts, things slip through the cracks and it gets harder and harder to assign tasks that arise.

Discussion processes: You’ve been to too many useless meetings that don’t accomplish anything. There’s a big difference between a topic and an agenda item. An agenda item has a clear outcome and a process for getting there. Do you need to brainstorm and if so, who is the facilitator? Is there a decision to make or are you gathering ideas? What do you do with off-topic ideas that require attention? Well planned structured discussions lead somewhere and produce something. Period.

Shared expectations for using tools: Just because you have a team blog doesn’t mean you’re all collaborating. Some teams kick butt at collaborating using files and shared folders on network drives. Why? Because they all know how to name documents, where to put specific types of documents, when to alert team members about changes, etc. The same is true for social, collaborative software. People need to understand the structure of an online team workspace. They need to know how to name and where to put wiki pages. What types of status updates are the most helpful? Every team member, especially the leader, needs to know how to use the tools to team standards.

Safety to fail: This is also the key to innovation. You need emotional safety to succeed at collaboration. Why? Because people can’t let go of their personal agendas and focus on shared goals if they are too concerned about protecting themselves. They won’t offer good ideas in brainstorms if they’re worried about ridicule or criticism. Most success rests on many failed attempts or poor ideas from which people learned. Build an environment where team members feel valued and free to fail if you want to collaborate well.

Are you setup to succeed with Enterprise 2.0?

Bottom line, if you want to succeed at Enterprise 2.0 you’ve got to be good at people management. All the foundations of good collaboration have to do with managing people.

  • Are your managers good facilitators?
  • Do your managers listen well?
  • Can your managers inspire team members and bring them together?
  • Do your managers have the discipline to stick to clear processes & procedures?
  • Can your managers learn new technologies?
  • Do your managers know how to set clear goals with a team?
  • Can your managers build trust among team members?
  • Are you managers comfortable with honesty?
  • Can your managers say “no” and manage conflict?

Software vendors won’t tell you this and consultants might not either, but if you have poor people management, you’re SOL. You’ll see only marginal value from your Enterprise 2.0 investments and your efforts at innovation won’t go very far. Implementing a social intranet will be an uphill battle. Getting adoption of collaborative tools will be a slow, painful process.

There are a ton of good managers out there and so many employees ready to collaborate. Most of the managers who build really good teams aren’t in the spotlight. They may not be the rising stars who get all the attention because they’re focused on the¬†success of their team. They’re listening more and talking less.

So, are you ready for Enterprise 2.0 success? What can you do to get there?