Why Collaboration Matters

“Ok team- meeting in 5 minutes!”

Once upon a time, I would start every morning with a standing meeting for everyone in our company. We were small, the coffee was good and the chit chat was kept to a minimum. We dodged a lot of bullets – and developed best practices for every area of our business.

Lately, I have been noticing some backlash and skepticism about the value of collaboration in business. A good example is Robert J. Thomas, who is executive director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance and a professor at Brandeis University International Business School. Thomas thinks the word is way overused (i.e., people don’t “work” anymore, they “collaborate.”)  He is bothered by performance appraisals that judge people on how well they collaborate (shades of kindergarten report cards on “playing well with others.”) To read his thoughts in full, go tohttp://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/06/the_three_essential_ingredient.html)

Thomas correctly notes that real collaboration takes time. And a collaborative effort can be as misguided as any other work endeavor. Being a “collaboration” doesn’t make it better. He also takes a dim view of many collaboration technologies such as shared calendars, noting that they “too often create a chock-a-block schedule of meetings, many-sided conversations, and a tangled web of emails, IMs, and tweets.”   Thomas is trying to raise the bar on what passes for collaboration. He suggests that businesses focus true collaborative efforts on problems with the following characteristics:

  • Don’t have an obvious solution — the problem addressed is not a routine one
  • Lack structure — there isn’t always a familiar process to follow
  • Require collective volition — some sort of sharing is needed but cannot be mandated

I like much of what Thomas says. Making us all think a bit harder about when and why we collaborate will make the effort that goes into it more worthwhile. Getting people together to share information, brainstorm, coordinate their efforts, etc. can help solve many business challenges. But it’s not a magic elixir.

But I also think Thomas misses a major element of what makes collaboration such a hot topic in business:  how collaboration technologies enable really smart information sharing.

It wasn’t that long ago that the only way to quickly share a text document between two people was overnight mail or a fax machine. Now you can e-mail, IM, use a cloud-based service like Dropbox—the list of options is very longA big part of the value of today’s collaboration solutions are how they help you make the most of all of these tools. For example, the interface on Avaya Flare™ Experience—the collaboration software introduced by Avaya—lets you instantly organize all your communications (e-mail, IMs, voicemails, etc. ) by person, or subject, or time period. Presence capabilities let you see who is available to talk or IM. SIP-based capabilities will actually take over the routing of your calls and messages. All of this is specifically designed to prevent the “tangled web” that Thomas describes, helping to support an environment that allows collaboration to flourish.

When encountering a business problem, setting up a wiki may help, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing you do out of the gate. Ultimately, collaboration isn’t just about making it easier for people to work from home.  Or making your employees X% more productive. The real measure of collaboration is how many new ideas bubble to the surface to help you enhance business performance. Create happier customers.

Another interesting take on this subject is in a whitepaper by Forrester –Innovation Unleashed: How Technology Will Make Collaboration Your Next Competitive Advantage:http://www.avaya.com/usa/resource/assets/whitepapers/BCL%20-%20Power%20of%20We%20-%20Innovation%20Unleased%20-%20Mar%202012.pdf

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About Vic Levinson
Telecommunications and IT professional with over 20 years experience in Business Telecommunications. Specializing in voice over IP (VoIP) for business: hosted VoIP, business VoIP phone systems, SIP providers, carriers, T1's - the works. Founded Prime Telecommunications in 1993 and providing business communications solutions. Cloud Applications- everything from hosted network security, hosted Disaster Recovery, hosted printer management, data centers and colocation solutions for businesses.

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