Down To Business: Why Some People 'Dread' Collaboration - InformationWeek
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Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Down To Business: Why Some People 'Dread' Collaboration

If workers use certain collaboration tools just because they're compelled to do so, they'll get lost in the white noise of misplaced communications.

If a business imperative ever sent out mixed IT signals, it's collaboration. Consider three recent research findings:

  • Among the business priorities Gartner forecast for 2010 based on a survey of 1,586 CIOs, at least four of the top six were related to collaboration: improve business processes, increase the use of information, improve workforce effectiveness, and manage change initiatives. But even though Gartner listed "social computing" among its top 10 strategic technologies, it isn't so sure companies will succeed with them: Through 2012, the advisory firm predicts, more than 70% of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail as IT organizations "struggle with shifting from providing a platform to delivering a solution."
  • In its survey of 500-plus executives in 17 countries, Kelton Research found that more than 80% of respondents think that enterprise-wide collaboration is the key to their companies' success, and 75% of them said their companies plan to increase their use of communications and collaboration tools in the coming year. However, a fourth of respondents said they "dread" collaborating because of the amount of time and energy it wastes, and 38% (54% in the U.S.) think that people rely too much on collaboration technologies to solve problems they could be solving themselves.
  • In a survey of 53 client companies to be released this week, the Corporate Executive Board finds that user adoption of so-called Enterprise 2.0 technologies lags initial deployment by five to eight quarters. Technologies such as wikis, social networking, and predictive markets are falling short of adoption targets in up to two thirds of companies the CEB surveyed, while mobile technologies, room-based telepresence, unified communications, and synchronous project planning systems are meeting or exceeding expectations.

Part of the challenge in fostering collaboration, says Shvetank Shah, executive director of the CEB's IT practice, is for IT organizations to get a better understanding of end users' workflows and the outcomes they hope to achieve, and then "tease out" the appropriate technologies. Collaboration isn't like customer relationship or supply chain management, whose top-down technology platforms require rigorous training and process enforcement. Collaboration is a more personal endeavor. People must intuitively see the value in using collaboration tools, and they must be engaged in their development and build-out.

Our own editorial organization is a case in point. Audio conference calls, e-mail, and instant messaging are our collaboration tools of choice. We also make selective use of room-based videoconferencing and Web-based document collaboration systems. Our everyday Web content management and magazine publishing systems have built-in workflow.

Enter "the wiki." Suddenly, we were told, most of the company's collaboration needed to happen on the new company platform. Part of a project team whose milestones and deliverables need to be documented? Great, get a wiki group going. Got a new HR policy or sales directive to share? You bet, post it in the appropriate wiki section. Part of an e-mail discussion longer than three responses? Really, take it to the wiki? Want to wish a co-worker happy birthday? Oh, no, please, not the wiki -- and the 40 additional e-mail alerts as everyone in the company extends his or her own witty best wishes for everyone to admire!

If people use wikis -- or any collaboration tool -- just because they're compelled to do so, they'll get lost in the white noise of misplaced communications. If users back away, it's not necessarily because they're hidebound or anti-social, or because the technology is inherently flawed (wikis are terrific for many things), but because they're not realizing the value.

Any personal technology that needs to be "driven" to end users through relentless training and pestering is going to peter out, especially if that technology adds three steps to what was previously a functional one-step process. Our editorial organization embraced e-mail and IM and our designated content workflow systems because they were and are indispensable -- users realized their utility from the get-go. They came with basic training up front and with upgrades, but no campaigns were necessary to encourage or enforce their continued use.

There are two kinds of collaboration: the kind that stimulates new ideas, solves problems, enhances teamwork, and distributes expertise; and the kind people use to cover their butts and show off in front of their peers and bosses. The first kind tends to propagate naturally, feeding off the culture of an organization; the second kind happens when the methods and tools are force fit, rendering collaboration an exercise unto itself.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
[email protected]

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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