Collaboration. It’s back, and it is still a problem.

The odds are very good that you’ve dealt with this before. It may have been called Knowledge Management. Maybe it was part of the last big rollout of your Intranet. Or maybe it was those “TeamSites” that you started using, with or without official approval. Whatever it was called, the problem that was to be fixed was poor collaboration among employees. However, the problem was never really fixed.

And now many organizations are back to assembling task forces and steering committees to take a look at their collaboration issues. Despite it being a punching bag for executives because it lacks measurable ROI, this is something that companies are finding is harder and harder to avoid. Why? Because…

  • Globally distributed employees can’t poke their head over a cube to ask for help
  • Millennial-aged employees have radically different expectations and needs for how they interact with their colleagues and share information
  • Retiring workers and flex-force employees are taking their knowledge with them
  • Intellectual Property is winding up on the cloud as employees proactively seek their own solution to the collaboration problem

Our experience shows that more technology is not the answer. Over the years, there has been a lot of investment made trying to fix this problem; and the reality is that a majority of organizations would come to a grinding halt if email and the shared drives were to both disappear at once. The trap is thinking that yet another software product in the mix with a compelling user interface and a catchy, or recognizable, brand will be the panacea. Without a doubt, your problem is with your processes and your organization’s culture.

So what do you do? Get in front of the issue and understand both what your employees want and how they do their job. They need to be supported in the ways they work and incented for good collaborative behavior. Only with this full understanding will you be ready to go out and find the solution that meets your requirements.

Read more about making your Intranet your company’s hotspot in my article, “Migrating to the Next Generation of the Intranet” at 

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  1. Brett

    At its highest level, collaboration usually follows one of two models: Document-centric vs. Conversation-centric. If your corporate culture is slanted one way, and your tools are slanted the other, odds are good you’ve got some unhappy users.

  2. chubbkm

    Would you agree that one way of addressing the lack of collaboration is to begin forming communities of practice? Where companies are dispursed geographically, the creation of virtual CoP, via collaborative tools could link one another together. The tricky part after forming a CoP is the nurturing of it I suppose. However, I would think that if the practice of that CoP is built around a business issue or passion, the CoP could be self sufficient.

  3. I definitely agree that CoP’s are an important part of the ongoing “care and feeding” of the collaboration platform. The continuous improvement, led by a governance team, that needs to happen could take cues from CoP’s on the ground that are dispersed throughout the enterprise.

    The biggest issue we see at Acquity Group is that organizations do not gather critical business input that the CoP’s can provide at the program’s onset. Not knowing how people collaborate and what they need is a setup for any tool’s failure.

  4. chubbkm

    Regarding certain collaboration tools; what is the downside of allowing the tool to create ‘virtual CoP’s’ based upon everyones collaborative efforts into the tool? In other words, some tools are intuitive enough to learn users behaviors, what information they seek, and what info. they regularly collaborate about. Other members can seek out the folks that seem to be the subject matter experts on the same topics they are addressing themselves. As this spreads, I see this as a potential to create CoP’s without even going about the process of setting them up. How off base am I with this thought?

    • I think you’re spot on. The key is creating the dialog within the tool. Whatever you can do to get people engaged online and talking goes a long way to helping those constituents that aren’t within earshot. That said, this shouldn’t be the only forum. Your governance structure should still include advisory boards, virtual feedback boxes, product champions in the business, etc. If there is good information flowing through those channels as well, and it’s being immediately posted online, then you are really helping those users find the information the seek and make the Intranet the primary vehicle in your organization for communication and collaboration.

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