Collaboration Strategy: Avoid The Online Dating Syndrome - InformationWeek
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Jacob Morgan
Jacob Morgan
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Collaboration Strategy: Avoid The Online Dating Syndrome

No matter how you spice up your profile, you'll never be a collaborative organization if you're lying to yourself. Here's how to build a better workplace, starting with what you've got.

I can't say that I've had much success with online dating. I tried it a few years ago but always ran into strange situations with even stranger people. See, the problem with online dating is that people can make themselves look like anything they want online, but when you meet them in real life they look quite different. This is the same problem with many enterprises today.

Organizations today are overly enamored with emergent collaboration solutions. We want to engage and connect our employees to each other and to the information they need to get their jobs done. So we deploy a technology, throw some training around it, and maybe get an executive to speak at a Town Hall meeting or prepare a video about why this new direction is so important. This is the equivalent to telling people you're 6'1" and a lean 170 lbs., have a successful career as a corporate executive, and drive a Porsche, and when in reality you're 5'6" and 195 lbs., unemployed, and drive a Honda.

The problem with most organizations is that they misrepresent themselves--they say they want to do things that their actions don't support.

[ For more on how to create a collaborative environment, see The Collaborative Organization: Control The Center. ]

Jacob Morgan's The Collaboration Organization is a comprehensive strategy guide on how to use emerging collaboration strategies and technologies to solve business problems in the enterprise. It has been endorsed by the former CIO of the USA, CMO of SAP, CMO of Dell, CEO of TELUS, CEO of Unisys, and dozens of other business leaders from around the world.

More by Jacob Morgan

Here's an all-too-common scenario: I talk to an executive and his/her team, and they tell me that they want to become a collaborative organization, that it's a big strategic goal, and that they value their employees. Typically, this organization has either deployed or is just about to deploy some collaborative initiative. Sounds like a pretty attractive organization, right? Not quite. In fact, what I briefly described above is like the online dating profile of a company: It looks good online, but just wait until you meet it in person!

What I typically discover next is that this same organization forces employees to dress formally every day, everyone works in a walled-off cubicle, many managers are completely aloof to the collaborative effort, employees are rewarded and promoted based on individual performance, the organization is extremely competitive internally, employee feedback is not being considered, few if any formal programs are developed to support collaboration, collaboration is not integrated into the vision of the company, and employees don't trust each other or their managers.

In other words, this is going to be one awkward date.

Recent numbers by Gallup suggest that 72% of American workers are disengaged, essentially meaning they sleep-walk through their jobs. I hate seeing high disengagement employee rates within companies. I believe that collaborative organizations can make the world a better place. If we empower, engage, and connect our employees, that impacts them both at work and at home. They will have less work-related stress and fewer arguments with their spouses. They will be able to work from more flexible environments, and they will care about the work they do and the people they do it with. They will be able to continuously learn and grow within the organization.

Creating a collaborative organization requires more than just technology. It's not just about deploying a collaborative solution within your enterprise, putting a manual behind it, and instructing everyone to use it. Collaboration and the culture of collaboration need to transcend virtual environments. If people are not comfortable and don't feel supported in their real workspace, then a virtual workspace won't make much of a difference.

We need to start thinking about collaboration in a broader context and ask, "How can this positively impact the lives of our employees?" instead of only "How can our company make or save more money?". It might sound like a cliche, but there's a real human component we seem to keep overlooking.

Technology and business/culture transformation go hand-in-hand. I'm not suggesting that we focus only on the business and people issues while ignoring the technology, nor am I saying that technology is the panacea for all of the problems within enterprises today. The collaboration initiative is as much about business transformation as it is about technology. I applaud all companies that make steps toward building a collaborative organization. But these steps need to be deeper and more meaningful. Instead of focusing on simply deploying technologies, we need to focus on changing the way we work and improving the quality of life for those we work with.

I've seen some amazing examples of companies that wholeheartedly believe in making this happen, and they show it in both their words and their actions.

TELUS is one of the few companies that has made collaboration one of the key pillars of how it conducts business; it's one of the guiding principles that the company proudly shares with its employees. TELUS not only deploys technology within the company, but it supports collaboration through events, new employee onboarding, mentoring, meet-ups, and a host of other initiatives, including an enormous push towards more flexible work environments.

With over 425,000 employees, IBM also offers many internal programs that support collaboration, including its famous JAM sessions, in which employees get together physically and virtually to come up with new ideas.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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User Rank: Apprentice
9/7/2012 | 7:17:43 PM
re: Collaboration Strategy: Avoid The Online Dating Syndrome
Absolutely on target. This isn't just true of collaboration - it is true of many trends that some businesses use for success, while others just try to sound-alike instead of do-alike. Whether it be collaboration, agile development, six sigma, etc. I have too often seen organizations trumpet they have embraced such technologies, when they are not technologies - they are processes that only occur when the organization changes their ways, their culture, their goals. Unfortunately, too many boards and other oversight bodies don't check to see if orgnaization leaders are playing buzzword bingo with PR-oriented exercises, rather than looking at the elusive "corporate culture" measuring stick. In the end, you can tell when you walk into an organization where people are engaged vs. disengaged, but all too often middle managers are too interested in checking off the box that they supported the latest initiative upper management asked for, rather than taking the time to really make a difference with their employees. Simple things that you listed make a big difference: valuing employee feedback is huge. If managers cannot have open discussion with employees, then you are not collaborating - you are simply commanding and calling it something else.
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