Government // Enterprise Architecture
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4/8/2011
10:21 AM
Michael Sampson
Michael Sampson
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The Right Way To Get Employees To Collaborate

With Microsoft SharePoint, Lotus Connections, or any other platform, your approach is more important than the technology.

A lot of my work in recent years has been with companies that have approached SharePoint the wrong way. You know the drill: The boys and girls in IT get shiny new toys from Microsoft, learn how to play with them, and then tell the rest of the business to "go for it" and "have at it." The net result is that not much actually happens, apart from further undermining the relationship between IT and the business groups.

In a recent engagement, I was working with an organization that had taken the exact same approach, but with Lotus Connections rather than SharePoint. No involvement from the business groups. No engagement to learn how the business groups actually worked and got stuff done. Little consideration paid to the positioning of the new collaboration tools in Connections with relation to the other tools offered by IT and used on a day-to-day basis. The technology was different than SharePoint, but the process was the same, and thus just as wrong. The all-too-common outcome with "SharePoint projects gone wrong" was happening again with Connections.

What do you do when the very technology that's supposed to encourage collaboration ends up creating strife and undermining collaboration? Whenever I find an organization at this place, I have three specific recommendations:

1. Start talking about it. The bigger the mess you've made, the more important it is to meet in person and start talking it through. Convening a half- or full-day workshop is a good place to start. Get someone from outside the organization to facilitate it, someone not aligned with either "side." And start talking about what happened, what could happen, what should have happened. Acknowledge the mistakes and see if there's an opportunity to try again.

2. Go back to basics and develop the vision and strategy. Organizations are complex entities, with political structures, hierarchical demands, country-specific, and even departmental-specific cultures. There needs to be something that everyone can rally around, though, if collaboration is going to work. What's the vision, the desired outcome, the intended objective of working together in new and different ways? Through discussion, observation, and experimentation, see if you can pull people together to point in the same direction. If you can, you've laid a great foundation for the next step.

3. Start experimenting, and include real people. Go out into your organization and look at how people work together today. What's going well for them? What's a real pain? What would people like to be able to do but are unable to make happen with current approaches or technology? Where is there an appetite for change, an appetite for doing things in different and enhanced ways? Find real people doing real work, and run experiments to explore opportunities and ideas.

If you're serious about enhancing collaboration between people at work, the approach you take is much more important than the technology you use. Involvement, from all parties, is essential. Engagement with the people you're trying to help is a necessity. Trying to collaborate "to them" is much less effective than collaborating "with them."

Michael Sampson is passionate about helping organizations make collaboration work. Based in New Zealand, he is globally recognized as a thought-leader on collaboration tools and strategies. He is the author of multiple books, including Seamless Teamwork (published by Microsoft Press), SharePoint Roadmap for Collaboration and User Adoption Strategies. You can reach him at michael@michaelsampson.net or +64 3 317 9484.

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