Are You Collaborative? Really!

My definition for collaboration is “two or more people working together (mostly via computer) on an ongoing basis for a specific purpose or goal.” I believe you have to look at collaboration holistically to be successful, with a simultaneous focus on people, process and technology.

After working with many clients who were having trouble with collaboration and doing some of my own research, I was able to find some common dysfunctional patterns. It took a few years, but I did come up with an assessment tool that helped in several ways. It could give me an initial idea of what the corporate situation was like in four areas. It let me get at the underlying attitudes people had about collaboration, even if they were not aware of them. It allowed me to focus in on the client’s critical problems and to apply my knowledge and experience where it would have the most value.

After having done (literally) thousands of these quick assessments, I was able to generalize specific problems endemic to different score categories. Here are some of the basic factors and examples of why they are important.

Technology is usually the first thing everyone thinks of for computer-based interpersonal interactions. Since I get briefed by hundreds of collaboration tool vendors each year, and have been doing this for 20 years, I have formed some strong opinions:

1) Technology is an enabler of the interaction, and is usually about 20 percent of a successful solution, yet because it is the most tangible part of the process it gets 80 percent of the attention. It is also a convenient scapegoat to just say the technology did not work.

2)Culture – You instinctively know that this is a critical aspect to any kind of interactions because it provides the context for the interaction. As a matter of fact I like to look at “local context,” which is composed of your company culture, your country culture, and your personal situation and style of interaction. For teams to be effective, the team members have to understand and respect the local context for everyone on the team to help minimize problems.

3) Economics – I work mostly with commercial clients (medium sized businesses), and they are always worried about the bottom line, so situational economics always has a role to play. Even if your technology is great and you have a collaborative culture, if there is not a compelling economic reason, the interactions will not happen or happen poorly. I also found that sometimes economics are not that critical but completing a goal or project is one of the ways success is measured. I usually found this in government organizations.

4) Politics – This is probably the most critical factor. I found more teams failed on their goals because of politics. If you have two people interacting, you have politics. I also define management’s behavior (not what they say, but what they do) as part of the politics for any organization.

The assessment at the Website www.collaborate.com/assessment is only a few multiple-choice questions. It should take you five minutes or less.

It is great for diagnosing where you are on this collaborative scale. But more importantly, it looks at your organizational goals and alignment and notes problems in effective process cycle times, corporate agility/responsiveness, and the ability to compete.

This assessment can also identify critical processes in your organization that have “collaborative leverage.” Collaboration is not only political, but it is often an organizational blind spot, because you are too close for an objective perspective on your problem(s). The problems are often not seen as collaboration problems but are framed in the context of that particular situation or process.

FOR EXAMPLE…

A sales manager I interviewed was telling me about his problem in losing so many proposals that it was keeping him up at night. With a bit more probing, I found out that the problems were (1) the proposals were being delivered to the client late, and (2) often they could not find the expertise needed to craft a winning proposal. The sales manager did not see this as a collaboration problem; I did. It was a problem of both coordination and expertise discovery. A few simple adjustments supported the increasing win rate on proposals in the next few months. The sales manager was a happy guy and sleeping well at night. So when you look at your organization, the collaboration issues may not be seen that way but will be voiced in the context of the situation or process in question.

In many cases, a more in-depth assessment is needed to pinpoint your challenges. This helps in developing a plan or collaborative strategy that will cost less than what you are spending and make you much more effective in today’s hyper-competitive environment.

Organizations with low assessment scores are at very high risk in today’s economy and constant evolution of technology. Even with an excellent score, you probably still have challenges in your competitive response to your market. A longer time to market means reduced market share; this can often be accompanied by limitations in scaling the company, poor corporate agility, and a reduction in your ability to develop or exploit new market opportunities.

Although yesterday’s strategies seemed to work well, state-of-the-art technology has advanced tremendously over the last two years, and requires that you ask the question again: “Are you collaborative…really?”

—David Coleman is managing director of Collaborative Strategies (www.collaborate.com), a San Francisco-based industry analyst and advisory services firm. He is also the author of two recent books on collaboration (“Collaboration 2.0” and “41 Rules for Successful Collaboration”). He also contributes heavily to the Collaboration Blog (www.collaborate.com) and to www.Allcollaboration.com. Coleman is also a partner in HPSCM, working to help large and medium-sized organizations to save millions by applying the collaborative shift to their processes. Reach him at davidc@collaborate.com or on Twitter @dcoleman100

My definition for collaboration is “two or more people working together (mostly via computer) on an ongoing basis for a specific purpose or goal.” I believe you have to look at collaboration holistically to be successful, with a simultaneous focus on people, process and technology.

After working with many clients who were having trouble with collaboration and doing some of my own research, I was able to find some common dysfunctional patterns. It took a few years, but I did come up with an assessment tool that helped in several ways. It could give me an initial idea of what the corporate situation was like in four areas. It let me get at the underlying attitudes people had about collaboration, even if they were not aware of them. It allowed me to focus in on the client’s critical problems and to apply my knowledge and experience where it would have the most value.

After having done (literally) thousands of these quick assessments, I was able to generalize specific problems endemic to different score categories. Here are some of the basic factors and examples of why they are important.

Technology is usually the first thing everyone thinks of for computer-based interpersonal interactions. Since I get briefed by hundreds of collaboration tool vendors each year, and have been doing this for 20 years, I have formed some strong opinions:

1) Technology is an enabler of the interaction, and is usually about 20 percent of a successful solution, yet because it is the most tangible part of the process it gets 80 percent of the attention. It is also a convenient scapegoat to just say the technology did not work.

2)Culture – You instinctively know that this is a critical aspect to any kind of interactions because it provides the context for the interaction. As a matter of fact I like to look at “local context,” which is composed of your company culture, your country culture, and your personal situation and style of interaction. For teams to be effective, the team members have to understand and respect the local context for everyone on the team to help minimize problems.

3) Economics – I work mostly with commercial clients (medium sized businesses), and they are always worried about the bottom line, so situational economics always has a role to play. Even if your technology is great and you have a collaborative culture, if there is not a compelling economic reason, the interactions will not happen or happen poorly. I also found that sometimes economics are not that critical but completing a goal or project is one of the ways success is measured. I usually found this in government organizations.

4) Politics – This is probably the most critical factor. I found more teams failed on their goals because of politics. If you have two people interacting, you have politics. I also define management’s behavior (not what they say, but what they do) as part of the politics for any organization.

The assessment at the Website www.collaborate.com/assessment is only a few multiple-choice questions. It should take you five minutes or less.

It is great for diagnosing where you are on this collaborative scale. But more importantly, it looks at your organizational goals and alignment and notes problems in effective process cycle times, corporate agility/responsiveness, and the ability to compete.

This assessment can also identify critical processes in your organization that have “collaborative leverage.” Collaboration is not only political, but it is often an organizational blind spot, because you are too close for an objective perspective on your problem(s). The problems are often not seen as collaboration problems but are framed in the context of that particular situation or process.

FOR EXAMPLE…

A sales manager I interviewed was telling me about his problem in losing so many proposals that it was keeping him up at night. With a bit more probing, I found out that the problems were (1) the proposals were being delivered to the client late, and (2) often they could not find the expertise needed to craft a winning proposal. The sales manager did not see this as a collaboration problem; I did. It was a problem of both coordination and expertise discovery. A few simple adjustments supported the increasing win rate on proposals in the next few months. The sales manager was a happy guy and sleeping well at night. So when you look at your organization, the collaboration issues may not be seen that way but will be voiced in the context of the situation or process in question.

In many cases, a more in-depth assessment is needed to pinpoint your challenges. This helps in developing a plan or collaborative strategy that will cost less than what you are spending and make you much more effective in today’s hyper-competitive environment.

Organizations with low assessment scores are at very high risk in today’s economy and constant evolution of technology. Even with an excellent score, you probably still have challenges in your competitive response to your market. A longer time to market means reduced market share; this can often be accompanied by limitations in scaling the company, poor corporate agility, and a reduction in your ability to develop or exploit new market opportunities.

Although yesterday’s strategies seemed to work well, state-of-the-art technology has advanced tremendously over the last two years, and requires that you ask the question again: “Are you collaborative…really?”

—David Coleman is managing director of Collaborative Strategies (www.collaborate.com), a San Francisco-based industry analyst and advisory services firm. He is also the author of two recent books on collaboration (“Collaboration 2.0” and “41 Rules for Successful Collaboration”). He also contributes heavily to the Collaboration Blog (www.collaborate.com) and to www.Allcollaboration.com. Coleman is also a partner in HPSCM, working to help large and medium-sized organizations to save millions by applying the collaborative shift to their processes. Reach him at davidc@collaborate.com or on Twitter @dcoleman100

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