There’s an ever increasing number of collaboration tools on the market. That is a good thing. I guess. But the tools are not the strategy as some seem to believe.
In the age of mass proliferation of business tools that can make almost everything we do on a daily basis possible and easy, we risk confusing tools for strategies. I know that we all know the difference, technically speaking. But, deep down, strategy is not something we like that much. If you don’t believe me try running strategy meetings on a regular basis with your staff and see how quickly the show lasts. Strategy is the practice of a plan, not only the writing of a plan. Collaborative strategy is no different. Which is why I have this nagging feeling that many businesses are becoming obsessed with tools that can broadly be described as collaboration tools. The idea stems from an overly simplistic view of collaboration. Almost a literal reading of it; ‘working together’. Unfortunately that may create challenges that also come with investment costs, and without any real chance of ROI being a feasible outcome.
Strategy has to inform the right resources, including tools. So it is a wise thing for any business entity to define its own collaboration strategy in a way that clearly defines what additional tools, if any, are needed. Many organisations forget that collaboration can be very successful without a single dollar being invested in new tools. A clever app, or a Cloud sharing space are not going to make any difference unless the value creators (more often referred to as employees) are integrated in a way that their work is always better when collaborating. So many times on mentioning collaboration, I get the question ‘do you use Dropbox?’ which is one version of a conversation I had higher hopes for. But at the same time there’s a telling insight in those exchanges. People are increasingly making a link between technology and behaviour, whereby potential for collaboration is at the centre. Technology can make things easier and thus impart a new logic on how things work. While a lot of this is still confined to daily life outside of work, collaboration is nevertheless becoming part of ‘normal’ behaviour which is expected to be replicated in work situations.
A recent report by Deloitte has shown that employees actually want to collaborate more in the workplace. They also tend be faster and more engaged – both factors that are more likely to provide professional benefits to staff. So the provision of tools, no matter how simple and generic or expensive and bespoke, is a vital part of a puzzle called business efficiency. However it is essential to begin with a strategy of collaboration that can define why collaboration is necessary, how it should be implemented, how the risk should be managed, how we organise the collaboration process in an environment that also needs to accommodate more traditional work processes, and so on and so on.
One very well recognised benefit of collaboration, be it internally or between multiple business partners, is an increased scope for innovation; which in itself comes with a set of questions that the collaboration strategy has to address. Innovation produces new intellectual property and with it the critical question of knowledge and IP management. Looking further into the strategy of collaboration is the important question of people management. Collaboration is not a party. It’s hard work and friction can be serious. In a world where workforce laws are informed largely on the basis of past process models, we are yet to address issues of emerging work habits and the laws governing them. The emergence of trends such as collaborative/shared economy has already brought some issues to the fore. Much more is yet to come and the disruptive nature of some of this will impact on the way we can and cannot collaborate. So the essence will be in making sure that the strategy of collaboration is capable of bridging the existing and emerging ways people can create value. Absence of such a strategy cannot be compensated with by technological tools, no matter how sexy they are.