Collaboration: It’s Not About Technology, It’s About the Culture

I got a chance to talk about how companies can use technology internally to collaborate and share more effectively. I started with examining what’s currently in use in organizations.

Email is the most commonly used collaborative tool. Unfortunately it is also perhaps the worst tool for open collaboration in an organization. You can only collaborate with people you send the email to. And the information is then trapped in email inboxes of people who were communicating with each other, with no access to others. The information isn’t shared beyond the people who the email was marked to.
There are other tools used for collaboration, like project-based collaboration using Microsoft SharePoint and wiki-based project workspaces. Amongst synchronous collaboration tools, there’s chat, video conferencing and online web conferencing tools like WebEx and Microsoft Office Communications Server. There are also tools like Salesforce that have the potential to be great collaboration tools if they are used correctly. And many employee portals also provide some collaboration features like discussion forums.
Of the tools that companies can use for collaboration, I am a proponent of micro-messaging in the workplace. Tools like Yammer, Socialcast, and Socialtext are great micro-messaging tools. Cloud documents is another collaboration tool that I feel companies should probably use more frequently. Services like Google Docs, Windows Live SkyDrive and Zoho are great online collaboration tools. Companies could also try Skype as a free video conferencing and web conferencing tool.
But I feel collaboration in companies is not really about technology. It’s about the culture. It’s the culture to:

          Broadcast yourself: Can you simply broadcast what you are doing without anyone necessarily anyone asking you? Executives in companies might be a little shy of doing this but unless you broadcast what you are doing, how can you collaborate?

          Openly seeking help: Don’t be shy to seek help, don’t worry what people will think about what you might not know.

          Respond to others: Collaboration is not one way. You have to be open to responding to others if you want collaboration as a culture in your organization.

          Share information freely: Do I even need to explain this?

          Build personal networks: The bigger your personal network is, the better your chances of collaboration. This is true even within an organization. The more people you know in an organization, the better your chances of collaboration.

          Not be afraid to make mistakes: You will make mistakes online. Can you build the culture where people are not afraid to make mistakes?

          Constantly be open to learning: Do you have a culture in your organization where everyone is eager to learn? The more open the culture to learning, the more collaboration you can expect in your organization.
It’s important to understand why companies should collaborate. Some contexts that have changed for me personally over last few years:

          I am as knowledgeable as the knowledge I have to I am as knowledgeable as the collective knowledge of my personal network.

          I am node of reference because I know things. Of course that’s true. But I am also the node of reference because I know who knows.

          I am expert because I know things, which is absolutely true. But if I don’t share what I know with others, I will soon lose my status as an expert. I am an expert because I share what I know.

          I can learn only from gurus. That’s something we should all let go. I can really learn from anyone irrespective of their position in the organization.
Here’s my presentation.