The 3 Pillars Of Enterprise Collaboration

What Makes Enterprise Collaboration Actually Work     

Enterprise collaboration is a need of the hour in the VUCA world. The phrase “VUCA world” has now become much maligned and over-used to the point where everyone now uses it to either sound contemporary or because others are using it. I’m not going delve into the term itself except to reiterate what the acronym stands for – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. I’m going to instead demystify the title of the article. What do I mean by enterprise collaboration and 3 pillars?

Discussing Enterprise Collaboration

In the context of this article, I’m referring to organizations that are invested in enabling collaboration and have put in place an enterprise collaboration platform to facilitate that. With this context clarified, let me delve further into the topic. Most of today’s organizations are distributed and operate across countries and time zones unless we are referring to one-member enterprises and entrepreneurs working out of their homes. In a complex and rapidly changing world, these distributed organizations face some unique challenges – one of them being knowledge sharing and collaboration. With novel challenges facing us every day, it becomes even more critical for an organization to collaborate and learn continuously. Thus, when enterprise collaboration platforms came to the market, many organizations jumped on to the bandwagon. It seemed like an answer to bridging those organizational silos and enabling cross-functional communication and learning across time zones and locations.

However, what many organizations failed to realize and therefore could not make the best of these platforms was that an enterprise platform by itself doesn’t build a collaborative organization. People cannot be forced to share and learn from each other, or come together in communities. Even as organizations struggled to enable collaboration within, another critical aspect that came up was the need for robust community management within the organizations. The success criteria for an effectively collaborating and co-creating organization seemed to anchor around 3 areas:

  1. Culture. 
  2. Community Management. 
  3. Context. 

I have explained each of these briefly below.

1. Culture

This is of paramount importance when trying to enable a collaborative and continuously learning organization. We are all familiar with the old adage that culture eats strategy for lunch! Therefore, no amount of strategic planning will get people to collaborate if the culture isn’t conducive. Cooperation and collaboration –two dimensions of a learning organization– require a culture that is open, trust-based, recognition-driven, and inclusive. A traditional command and control organization where information flow is controlled through the chain of command is hardly going to elicit open sharing. Similarly, if leaders are not seen to “walk the talk,” cooperation is unlikely. A recognition-driven organization takes care to acknowledge contribution and celebrate participation. When people feel that their ideas and contribution will be acknowledged and celebrated, it fosters a virtuous cycle of contribution, cooperation, and collaboration. All of these lead to an organization that learns faster, is innovative, can quickly spot and rectify mistakes while learning from them, and is future focused. Inclusivity hinges on respect and diversity. An organization that embraces diversity and provides space for all voices to be heard is on the right track to become a collaborative and learning organization. All of these together lay the foundation of a culture that supports collaboration and building of communities.

2. Community Management

While it is absolutely essential to have the kind of culture described above, a combination of the right culture and an enterprise social platform is not enough for a community to take off. An enterprise collaboration platform accessible to everyone can soon become a “free-for-all” or a “ghost town” after the initial hype of launch is over. Without a community manager to facilitate and channelize conversations, trolls or certain dominant voices can take over killing the spirit of inclusivity and collaboration. Hence, in an organization that is truly looking to become collaborative, the role of a community manager becomes very critical. Even the most enthusiastic early adopters will soon lose interest if the platform doesn’t offer engaging content and meaningful conversations. This of course is easier said than done and requires well thought out change management plans. A good community manager is thus first and foremost a change agent. Change management includes onboarding users onto the platform, enabling them to use it with ease and supporting them throughout. Onboarding typically covers conducting training, socializing the platform and defining different ways of contribution. Defining clear guidelines and directives go a long way toward user adoption. The table below summarizes some of the ways that users can contribute, and it is the responsibility of a community manager to show them the path.

User Generated Content Types

3. Context

Finally, the other critical component of a collaboration is context. Not every kind of work requires collaboration. Force fitting collaboration into everything can lead to fatigue and disillusionment. When there is contextually a genuine need for collaboration, then the right culture and robust community management support an organization to become collaborative. In this case, context can arise from the nature of the work. If complex challenges need to be solved, then it becomes important to collaborate because complex problems require a cognitively diverse set of people to come together. On the other hand, certain tasks may genuinely be routine activities that just require people to cooperate and follow processes. Trying to bring in collaboration can often lead to chaos and unnecessary delays. Therefore, it is important that conditions for collaboration be made clear to the employees, and they should understand the difference between collaboration and just sharing. The latter doesn’t require any specific context or outcome. It is triggered by generosity and a need to share with the hope that others will find the learning useful. Collaboration, on the other hand, is purpose-driven and need-based. A good community manager will draw the distinction between the two to create a holistic culture of open sharing and contextual collaboration within an organization.

Final Word

These 3 pillars of culture, community management, and context thus lay the foundation of an open and learning organization. In today’s world of rapid change, an organization’s only competitive edge is to learn at the pace of change. And this is what is facilitated when all the 3 pillars coexist.