Improving collaboration continues to top executive priority lists, so let's revisit whether they're "teasing out" the right tools and techniques.

Rob Preston, VP & Editor in Chief, InformationWeek

May 18, 2012

3 Min Read

And then there's The Hub's uber-benefit of driving enterprise-wide collaboration--breaking down departmental silos and promoting knowledge sharing among people who wouldn't otherwise interact with one another. My editorial colleagues and I have been exposed to some new people and fresh thinking on The Hub, even if we're not the most engaged participants.

For example, a month-old thread on The Hub about mobile applications lets participants see what's happening in other departments, ask pointed questions, grab ideas, and even change direction. In a global company such as ours, there's no way this collaboration would happen so organically otherwise.

At its worst, however, social collaboration can devolve into minutia. Too many cheerleaders aspiring to "guru" or "wizard" status. Too many congratulatory wishes, affirmations, and platitudes, all generating their own inbox-clogging email alerts (which users can turn off, but then they're pretty much out of the loop). A respondent to our recent Enterprise Social Networking Survey put it this way: "Social networking may work well, but not if it degenerates to the low density and high volume that email has."

Amen, brotha.

Meantime, the blunt conversations so important to doing business in real time get moved to email or IM or over the phone or in person. That's fine, as long as we all understand what enterprise social collaboration platforms do well (knowledge sharing, project management, team building, morale boosting) and how they can become a distraction (see previous paragraph). No single wiki, hub, portal, or forum can serve every corporate purpose. It's why unified communications is gaining so much momentum.

It's also the reason non-sanctioned social media platforms such as Yammer are so popular: They're off the corporate grid. Users feel free to speak their minds and get down to solving pressing problems without fear of a political backlash. Zoho, an Indian software-as-a-service provider, told me a few weeks ago about social freeware it has in beta called IT Pulse, specifically for IT organization collaboration, emphasizing that IT pros will have discussions on its platform they wouldn't feel comfortable having with the rest of the company.

One problem is that most CIOs don't want to support multiple collaboration platforms. And then there are those internal silos companies are looking to break down rather than erect. I'm not convinced there's much of a generational gap when it comes to embracing E2.0 tools. If some people do indeed "dread" modern-day collaboration, it isn't a Baby Boomer vs. Gen X or Gen Y thing, a type A vs. type B thing, or an extravert vs. introvert thing. It's a human thing. People are different; they collaborate differently.

Fostering social collaboration requires companies to constantly seek user feedback (my company recently conducted a survey of all employees). Which features are the most productive? For which kinds of work and communications is the platform most effective? Conversely, how is it being misused? What rules of engagement, if any, would users recommend?

The main job of the platform's steward, whether it's an IT director, community manager, or some other professional, isn't to be its promoter, though that comes with the turf. It's to plug in to user sentiments, positive and negative, and evolve the software and usage practices accordingly. Meantime, don't dismiss everyone who initially resists enterprise social collaboration as an outlier, Luddite, or malcontent. (I swear: I'm not.)

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About the Author(s)

Rob Preston

VP & Editor in Chief, InformationWeek

Rob Preston currently serves as VP and editor in chief of InformationWeek, where he oversees the editorial content and direction of its various website, digital magazine, Webcast, live and virtual event, and other products. Rob has 25 years of experience in high-tech publishing and media, during which time he has been a senior-level editor at CommunicationsWeek, CommunicationsWeek International, InternetWeek, and Network Computing. Rob has a B.A. in journalism from St. Bonaventure University and an M.A. in economics from Binghamton University.

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