The Current State of Enterprise Collaboration

The Current State of Enterprise Collaboration

People Want to Collaborate, But Many Feel Frustrated With Their Ability To Do So.

Almost 80 percent of executives surveyed said that collaboration was critical to the future of the company. Yet, only one-third of survey respondents who wanted to collaborate were able to within their organizations, according to a study conducted by All Collaboration and Elearning! Media Group in February 2010.

Culture, rather than technology, was the biggest impediment to successful  collaboration. Clear goals and roles for collaboration were named the second obstacle to success. Improving collaborative tools was third, according to the study conducted across 450 organizations.

The goals for this study were to look at the past, present and future of collaboration. We also wanted to discover the individual and organizational expectations of collaboration, what they were used for, and how effective the tools were.We also put a high priority on determining what the biggest barriers to collaboration were.


The study defined “collaboration” as working with others. E-mail is by far the most-used collaborative tool, according to the survey. E-mail was followed in popularity by audio conferencing and data conferencing (file sharing, screen sharing
and Web meetings). However, video is gaining popularity, both as an advertising tool (social media) and as a way to express yourself on the Web. Most video is currently streamed (YouTube, etc.), but the next incarnation is interactive video,
or video conferencing.We are starting to see a number of tools that allow you to embed video conferencing into your Website.

Many people already collaborate as a significant work activity, and they indicated this behavior and the tools to support it would only grow in importance. About two-thirds of those surveyed collaborated on a project daily. However, only about a third of those who wanted to collaborate were able to, and then only about half the time they wanted to. Culture, rather than technology, was seen as the biggest impediment to successful collaboration. Process was also an issue, and the biggest reason seen for failure of a distributed team working collaboratively on a project was not the ability of the tool they were using to support the interactions but rather the lack of clear goals and roles.


Most of those we surveyed were doing on average of three to four projects that required collaboration, many of them participating on a daily basis, and some even on an hourly basis. These projects are complex and generally have team sizes of 3 to 10.

About 1/4 of the time these projects were restricted to one group or department, about 1/4 the time they involved people outside the corporate fire wall, and about 1/4 of the time they were cross-discipline or cross-departmental collaborations. This trend of moving from internal colleague collaboration to external collaboration is one we have been tracking for years.

In the ’90s, almost all collaboration was among colleagues, and while this is still true today, it is less so. Slowly over the last decade with the rise of Web 2.0 and social networks, much of the collaboration is now done outside the firewall. For project success, basic principles of project management and having a balanced
holistic interaction (people, process and technology) were the factors most cited for project success.


Many of those participating in collaborative projects (more than 80%) felt they were successful. Only 1% cited their projects as failures. Moreover, 40% saw themselves as the project leader and another 30% as a key participant. Interestingly almost 1/4 of those on a project never met face-to-face (F2F) with the rest of the project team; whereas about 1/2 the people met on a weekly basis (F2F) with their project team. The four most dominant factors for success in all the populations we surveyed were:

>> Focusing on the right issue or problem;
>> A shared understanding of roles, goals, timelines and deliverables;
>> Good and persistent leadership; and
>> Processes worked out for optimal team interactions and communication.

Many of these project teams found that e-mail, data sharing or conferencing (including file sharing), and audio conferencing were the most effective tools for project management and implementation. Wikis or collaborative writing, instant messaging, and discussion forums were seen as the least helpful.

This was something of a surprise, because the amount of time it takes to do a project task is often much less than the time communicating about the task. You can wait days to get a response to an email about a task, but an IM not only allows you to do presence detection, but to cut the communication cycle down to minutes instead of hours or days.

The same is true of discussion forums, since 25% of those on the project team never even get to meet the rest of the team in person. These forums are not only a good way to keep people up to date on project and task status but can cut down on the expense of a F2F meeting. Having weekly meetings for status updates is a waste of time and technology. The higher bandwidth F2F meetings should be used for issues and solving difficult problems in the project. F2F meetings are great for engendering trust; most people are not that good discussing emotional issues in an online forum because that medium is not great in transferring emotion. (The same is true for e-mail.) The way this is often expressed to clients is “don’t break up with your girlfriend over e-mail.”


Within HR and training groups, 22% felt this was the best use for collaboration. However, if we look at the rest of the organization, 22% used collaboration for solving business problems, and training dropped to 5%.

Almost 45% saw collaboration as an essential process across the whole enterprise, yet almost 80% felt that collaboration was critical to the future of the company. Interestingly, the biggest obstacle seen for the improvement of collaboration in the enterprise is changing the organizational culture. The second- most critical ability to improve collaboration is improvements in the process itself. Improving collaborative tools was third.


Collaboration is well entrenched in the enterprise, because it is not only critical to most businesses but will be even more critical in the near future. Critical processes in the enterprise — which have a collaborative component — can best be found in sales/marketing, training, decision support or exception handling in supply-chain management or customer support. In addition, Gen Y, now becoming predominant in the workplace, has a fondness for IM over e-mail.

>>Collaboration — especially for distributed project teams — works best if basic project management principles are applied. Our experience shows that IM and forums (online discussions) not only help project productivity but also help the project team to collaborate better. Yet, our results show just the opposite. The only way we can explain this is that  most organizations are not yet using these tools (IM, forums) effectively (or at all) in projects and are still focused on the more traditional tools of e-mail, file sharing and Web conferencing

>>The simpler the collaboration tools, the better. When talking with vendors about their product roadmap, the engineers always want to add one more feature. It is much harder to make something simple and easy to use than it is to add another feature.

>>People want to collaborate. After all, we are social animals. But today many people feel frustrated with their ability to collaborate. When asked “What was the biggest barrier to additional collaboration?,” the most common response was corporate culture, or poor leadership and clear goals for collaboration. Unfortunately, human behavior is very difficult to change on the individual
level, and trying to change a culture is an even more daunting task. What we need now is better technologies for organizing transformation. This would include tools to establish collaboration metrics, tools for determining the value of collaboration,
and training in both interpersonal communication while understanding the “local context” of those on your project team. Local context is understanding the specifics about your team members’ situation, their corporate culture and their country culture.

>>As organizations become more globally distributed, their need for effective collaboration deepens and starts to impact more processes not only in the enterprise but between the enterprise and its value network. Innovation often happens at the edge — the edge in this case being the corporate firewall. Next year, we expect to see a substantial increase in inter-enterprise collaboration.

Where is your company in terms of collaboration? One way to find out is through a collaboration assessment to establish a baseline or threshold values. Then, any changes you make in this environment can be compared to the original values to show the level of change.

—David Coleman is a regular author for Elearning! magazine and writes a regular column called “collaborative Intelligence” as well as feature articles like this one. Visit his Website ( or contact him by phone (415-282-9197) or Twitter (@dcoleman100). Special thanks to Steve and Lokesh of for doing the majority of the survey and analysis work. You can contact them at The full report is available at:”

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