Contextual Collaboration - The Challenges and How HCL Can Help

By Auro N Chowdhury posted 05-03-2012 09:32


A Google search on the term “collaboration” fetches about 275 million results today. Its popularity notwithstanding, the term has been one of the hardest to define. One of the commonest definitions of “collaboration” is that “it is a journey in which two or more individuals work towards realizing a shared goal.” Such definitions are confusing in the context of an Enterprise. Let me explain why.

Firstly, there is hardly any activity that individuals perform in a Business that does not require assistance from others. Let me give you an example. Let’s say someone is submitting his cash claim. Apparently, this is a one-person job but let’s dig deeper. One, someone has to approve the request. Two, there must be people supporting the hardware and software platform on which the cash claim application runs. So, it does satisfy the two-person-or-more criterion. Secondly, the cash claim process is definitely a “journey” with a definite start and an end. Thirdly, although it might look like this “journey” is benefitting the indenter only, in the larger context, it does benefit both the indenter and the approver, leave alone others who might depend upon the indenter for various reasons, from the employee motivation perspective. In other words, it is difficult to figure out what is not collaboration. What might be missing in the definition is a term that subtly differentiates cooperation and collaboration – the fact that in “collaboration” it is not only the goal that is shared but also the responsibility and the fact this needs to happen in a democratic way, irrespective of designation of the participants. In other words, all participants play the same role, irrespective of their designation or status in an organization.

The challenge above is aggravated by the fact that the space of “collaboration” is undergoing a massive and rapid transformation. And a lot of factors are contributing to it. Some of the key factors are democratization of organization culture, largely spurred by introduction of the millennial to the workforce, availability of multiple channels of collaboration, engendered by popularity of mobile phones, a shift from the proprietary to the Open Source, a reassuring faith in collective intelligence, stemming from Crowd Sourcing, pressure for low price points, resulting in alternatives to collocation and last, but not the least, usage of social media. The confluence of these factors has added to the complexity of the matter. In the interest of space, let us pry into the social area briefly.

The term “Social” has gotten introduced to the space of “collaboration” in multiple ways. For example, “Social Media”, “Social CRM”, “Social Networking”, “Social Enterprise” are some terms that can stretch the expanse of “collaboration” widely and I am not going to discuss how in this blog. However, what has been observed so far is that the link of “collaboration” to one of the four quadrants of the “Balanced Scorecard”, namely “Learning and Growth”, has been most widely accepted by all the business domains based on clear benefits derived from collaboration amongst employees (e.g. 170,000 Best Buy employees collaborating on social sites) whereas the correlation kind of peters out as we move along to the other three, namely, “Customer Perspective”, “Business Process” and the “Financials”. There are a lot of inspiring examples of how customers, especially retail and manufacturing, are getting more and more involved in creation of products – Blendtec’s use of Social Media resulting in 700% increase in sales, Ben and Jerry’s IdeaConnection, the “Dewmocracry” campaign by Mountain Dew, 10 million Starbucks fan on Facebook, CNN’s (Christiane Amanpour) Debategraph, Samsung’s Shakedown experiment, “Create your own donut” contest by Dunkin Donuts, Facebook integration for Diesel customers to take their own pictures for free, Domino’s Pizza’s 29% increase in profit because of Four Square integration are only few examples in point. The human genome project (HGP) by the US government or NASA and Microsoft’s private-public strategy towards getting images of Mars and Moon are couple of examples of “social” taking on for-the-public-and-by-the-public-intonations. However, it all boils down to the business, or rather how relevant or “contextual” is it to the current business. Speaking of governance, DELL makes sure that they do not tweet for more that 7 times a day and do not have more that 3 to 4 Facebook pages.

We need to remember that success not only breeds success but also publicity and the reverse induces reticence. Hence, while success stories abound, there are no less number of collaboration initiatives gone awry silently because of two primary reasons – one, dearth of planning and two, low alignment to business objectives. While organizations that have successfully implemented “collaboration” have always done so with high level of planning to ensure “contextual collaboration”, failures could be associated with the reverse, i.e. lack of planning and governance towards business alignment. Examples are many and hence I am refraining from citing those. There is no gainsaying that aligning collaboration to business needs, albeit in a planned manner, is the key to business success. It’s important, however, to ask how one makes it happen.

There are ways and means to measure whether collaboration is happening in a disciplined and effective manner in an Organization and to suggest ways for course correction, if necessary. In fact, introducing new roles, like Collaboration Champion or Chief Collaboration Officer, could be necessary in the fast-moving collaboration landscape. Such roles could drive cultural changes in Organizations planning to embark upon a meaningful collaboration journey, targeted towards business goals, if not sustainable innovation. This is where an Expert on Enterprise Collaboration will come in. And this, ideally, should, also be a part of the planning exercise.

HCL has, thankfully, come out with a framework to ensure proper adoption of collaboration in an enterprise. Please reach out to or tweet @CAFtheIDEA. HCL’s collaboration experts will get in touch with you within two working days.

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