The 12 Habits Of Highly Collaborative Organizations, Part 1

by Jacob Morgan

When it comes to the future of work and collaboration I’ve worked with and researched hundreds of companies.  Collaboration is indeed a top priority for many business leaders but knowing what makes organizations successful can be a man plays chesstricky thing.  After all no two companies are like and their strategies and technologies can be quite different. In addition collaboration initiatives come from different departments with different budgets, they have different uses cases and corporate cultures, and different approaches, goals, and measures of success.  So if there is so much variety here then how do we know what makes organizations successful?  The answer lies in chess.

I happen to be a big fan of chess, so much so that my business partner and I named our company Chess Media Group.  Did you know that there are more possible moves in a game of chess then there are atoms that exist in the universe and more moves then there are seconds that have elapsed since the big bang?  Chess is virtually an infinite game yet somehow we have grand-masters who are always at the top.  How do they succeed in this infinite game?  They identify patterns and look for identifiable scenarios. This same approach is applicable for collaboration.  So having said that, here are the 12 common habits or success factors for collaborative organizations.

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Lead by example

If leaders at your organization don’t use and support collaborative tools and strategies then why should the employees? Leaders are very powerful instruments to facilitate change and encourage desired behaviors.

Example: Oce is a large printing and outsourcing company. The culture at the company was such that those who asked questions or admitted they don’t know something were perceived as weak or stupid. To solve this problem the team that led the collaboration efforts were the first to make themselves vulnerable. Others saw this and become more receptive.

Individual benefit vs corporate benefit

Don’t focus on the overall corporate value and benefit when communicating collaboration to employees. Employees care about how this will impact them on an individual basis. How will this make their jobs and lives easier?

Example: AMP Bank in Sydney spent time with employees side-by-side understanding how they work and explaining to them how new technologies and strategies can positively impact their lives at work. 

Strategy before technology

Before rushing to pick that shiny new collaboration platform focus on developing a strategy which will help you understand the “why” before the “how.” This is crucial for the success of any collaboration initiative. You don’t want to be in a position where you have deployed a technology without understanding why.

Example: Penn State University Outreach needed a way to connect and engage all of their employees. They used to do this at an annual conference which would only hold a fraction of the employees, so it was first come first served. Having a clear strategy in place before deciding on a technology helped them realize what they needed, why they needed it, and how they were going to make it work. Now they are able to engage and connect with the whole company instead of with just a few hundred employees.

Learn to get out of the way

By trying to enforce and police everything, you stifle collaboration within your organization. Some best practices and guidelines are fine to have but let your employees do what they need to do.

Example: ING Direct Canada does a fantastic job of empowering employees.  The employees have no job titles and no offices. Anyone can talk to anyone and leaders focus on removing obstacles instead of creating them.  Their CEO welcomes any feedback and input from the team whether it be negative or positive and employees aren’t policed on their collaborative environment.  

We are always so adamant about listening to the voice of the customer, what about the voice of the employee? When going down the collaboration road within your organization it’s important to make employees a part of the decision making process from step one. Listen to their ideas, their needs, and their suggestions and integrate their feedback in your technology and strategy.

Example: Booz Allen Hamilton used to have fantastic employee engagement.  They worked on 2-week iteration cycles to their collaboration platform based on employee feedback.  They were the case study that everyone talked about at the conferences. One day this project was passed over to IT and listening to the voice of the employees ceased. Engagement levels and employee adoption levels plummeted.  

Integrate into the flow of work

Collaboration should never be seen as an additional task or requirement for employees. Instead collaboration should fit naturally into their flow of work. For example instead of having employees use multiple usernames, passwords, and log-in sites; create a “front-door” to the enterprise accessed through your collaboration platform.

Example: TELUS is a telecommunications company based in Canada which integrated collaboration into the core of how employees work.  All of their technologies can be accessed via a central navigation bar, collaboration is one of their core values, and they have collaboration scavenger hunts for new employees in addition to employee off-sites and many other things.

Create a supportive environment

If your organization focuses on rewarding employees for individual performance as the main driver of success then it will become quite hard to encourage employees to share and communicate with each other. Why would they want to? There is nothing wrong with rewarding employees for great performance but it’s also crucial to reward teamwork. For example organizations can make a percentage of an employee’s bonus tied to how well they collaborate with their co-workers. A supportive environment also means having training and education resources available for employees as well as evangelists within the organization.

Example: The Motley Fool is the only company I’ve met that has a Chief Collaboration Officer. The employees play collaboration games to help work as a team, have mobile desks that they can relocate in their office, and feature a popular blog on their corporate culture.

Want to learn more about the workplace of the future? Check out the Future of Work forum at SAPPHIRE NOW, June 3 – 5 in Orlando, Fla. Register now!

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This post originally appeared on Forbes and was republished for permission.