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Soccer, teams and the difficulty of corporate collaboration

Caveat: I am currently at the Sapphire in Berlin having been invited to the event as a blogger. 

Note: I’m going to use the word “soccer” in this blog. Those outside America probably could substitute the world “football” for the same sport.  

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SAP played a short film where individuals kick a soccer ball back and forth and perform ball tricks in various environments before Henning Kaggerman’s keynote speech at the Sapphire in Berlin and before the press conference with the Executive Board, . The voice-over discusses the importance of expanding collaboration along the value chain (supplier, vendors, etc.) and in different corporate environments. This film reflects SAP’s current focus on improving / extending the business network beyond the corporate firewall as well as the idea of composites that extend over various corporate silos.



In this blog, I want to examine in more detail this metaphor that SAP selected for their marketing film and take a more detailed look at the whole collaboration arena. This important topic was also highlighted in Léo Apotheker’s keynote at the Sapphire this morning as providing the foundation of business network transformation.


I agree completely that this goal of extending business networks is a worthy one that is relevant for any organization. However, I think this collaboration is not only dependent on technology – there many other factors that must be considered.  The reason behind this hypothesis is that every collaboration is embedded within a variety of relationships (legal, psychological, etc.)    It is doesn’t matter if we are talking product design collaboration, infrastructure out-sourcing, etc.  Furthermore, at the lowest level, all collaboration ends up taking place between individuals which influences the basic nature of this interaction.


Let’s take a look at the idea of a “team” as the basis for this corporate collaboration.  Just as on a soccer team, individuals play different parts on the team (goalie, forward, etc.), the individuals in the collaboration team also have different roles that influence how they interact with another. In a collaboration associated with product development, individuals based on their particular corporate association (partner – external vs. subsidiary-internal) also have different motivations that influence how they collaborate.  Furthermore, the developer from a partner firm who codes the application in question will need other collaborative tools than the BPX who designs it


The individual participants in corporate collaboration have different characteristics (size, location, etc.) as well.   Some players may be stronger than the others and have better skills – a similar situation exists in a large global corporation collaborating with a small regional partner.  Collaboration environments must reflect this dichotomy as well.



It may be said that collaboration in the corporate arena is just as difficult to learn as soccer; indeed, it may be more difficult (I hope I’m not insulting any soccer fans out there), because the motivations of those involved are more complex than a spectator sport, the number of teams involved is much higher, and the number of players on a team is usually much greater. Furthermore, soccer players are on the same playing field and have direct contact with other members on their team. Corporate collaboration is usually virtual; thus, making it more complicated to get those signals that physical presence allows.


Although the soccer players in the marketing film make it look easy to bounce a ball off a wall and then do a chest trap (or all those other cool tricks), it takes months or even years to achieve such a proficiency as well as the ability to make such tricks look easy. If you go to any soccer field, you’ll see young kids already trying to perform such tricks and practicing for days on end. In the area of corporate collaboration, the same diligence is needed to be able to collaborate successfully and efficiently.  Just as in any sport, you must practice.


Just like all those neighborhood kids who practice ball tricks in their own backyards or on playgrounds, the smaller firms with extensive experience in Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 technology should be examined in order to learn from their “lessons learned” regarding collaboration. This assessment should not only focus on the tools used in this environment but other non-technological factors such as team-building measures.

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  • hi,
    although the soccer team i´m a fan of is a perennial underachiever i think that the comparison you make is quite correct.
    (Hope next season we´ll make it anyway).
    We´re but simple craftsmen facing code challenges everyday. From that daily contact with problems new solutions are born.
    Same applies to plants or factories. Many great innovations are born in the floor plant.
    Hope to make someday my small contribution as well.

    Best regards.

    • Hi,

      I agree completely. This collaboration can take place at any level / location of the corporation. You make a valid point about the origin of innovation on the floor plant. How do you involve non-IT workers in a collaborative environment? A worker on the factory floor has a great idea while working. How can he move this idea to an environment where he/she can collaborate with others to realize its value for the corporation

      This is another example of the importance to look beyond technology when examining collaboration.

      Thanks for your comment.