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8/27/2012
10:38 AM
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5 Tips: Overcome Corporate Collaboration Challenges

Social turns top-down communication channels upside down, as employees demand honesty and input on corporate decisions.

Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
Enterprise Social Networks: Must-Have Features Guide
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
I recently received an infographic illustrating research by leadership development and training company Fierce on organizational collaboration. The research results, visualized by Salesforce.com Rypple, didn't seem all that interesting, but there were a couple of nuggets that got me thinking about the ways in which social is changing the way we communicate.

The survey found that 86% of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. Not surprising. More than 97% of those surveyed believe the lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of any given task or project. Uh huh. Nearly 100% of respondents said they prefer a workplace in which people identify and discuss issues truthfully and effectively. Well, the converse would be that they prefer a workplace in which people discuss issues dishonestly and ineffectively. Who would want that?

What struck me as interesting, though, was that more than 70% of respondents either agree or agree strongly that a lack of candor impacts a company's ability to perform optimally, while 90% believe that decision makers should seek out other opinions before making a final decision. This to me says that people want the unvarnished truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and they want a say in what happens before decisions are made. I'm not surprised that people want this, but I am kind of surprised that people expect it.

But should I be? Is company spin a thing of the past? Are CEOs surveying employees before making a decision? Has social networking turned the communications model on its head?

"The traditional boundaries that have existed within companies are coming down," Nick Stein, Rypple's director of content and media, told The BrainYard. "The hierarchies are disappearing ... When you talk about collaboration, I think what's really changed is that, in the past, traditional corporate hierarchies were very much managed and controlled--they were based on the traditional military systems of hierarchy. Information was power and control--the more information you had, the more powerful you [were]. Now, I think, it has moved to a point that, because things are happening so quickly and companies are more global and spread out, these are all things that are crying out for a way to distribute that information more effectively and more quickly in a more decentralized way. Social media is just a more effective way to do that."

At any rate, respondents to the Fierce survey seem to feel that open collaboration is key but aren't necessarily seeing it at their own organizations: About 40% of respondents believe decision makers consistently fail to seek another opinion, and less than half feel that their organization discusses issues truthfully and effectively.

[ Read Crowdsourced Work Made Cheaper With Qurk. ]

Rypple put together a list of five suggestions for overcoming these and other collaboration challenges:

1. Encourage people to share ideas. Make sure employees know their suggestions will be taken seriously by peers and superiors.

2. Build brainstorming into each project. Solicit feedback from group members at key decision points to ensure vital information is never overlooked.

3. Log important communications. Document project plans and key discussions to eliminate the "he said/she said" nature of spontaneous conversation.

4. Limit group sizes. Keep groups large enough to avoid tunnel vision but small enough to preserve a close-knit dynamic where everyone knows each other.

5. Resist the urge to direct. If you are the boss, allow employees to contribute and tackle problems on their own before jumping in with a solution.

I would also add "set deadlines for input" and "make use of moderators when possible," to ensure that voices aren't drowned out and that conversations don't get stuck on small issues (trees, meet forest).

Are communications and collaboration changing at your organization? Is the use of social driving that change, or is the change driving the use of social? We welcome your comments below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

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