Why Corporate Collaboration Tools are Fundamentally Flawed
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Facebook Workplace and other popular corporate collaboration tools, such as Yammer, Slack, Skype, WhatsApp and Salesforce Chatter, all promise a kind of magic bullet for today’s geographically diverse workplace. And, if the goal is easier communication and a more modern channel for information sharing, then these tools can achieve some measure of success.
Where they miss the point, however, is in their ability to derive meaningful insights from the interactions that take place between and among employees.
A recent article in CIO featured efforts by skincare company Rodan & Fields to improve internal collaboration by using Facebook Workplace. The article touted the benefit of consolidating many software platforms down to one, and creating a “commonplace and common model for people to interact.”
Collaboration has become something of a buzzword lately due to an abundance of so many new collaborative technologies hitting the market. And the right collaboration tools will increase productivity by instilling positive changes in how people work and by fundamentally changing the corporate culture.
But companies have to make more than halfhearted attempts at collaboration: Instead, they're realizing only half of the value of collaboration by creating better ways to discuss ideas, but putting fewer of them in place. The great irony is that those companies that view collaboration as synonymous with IM or chat features are not properly equipping their workforces. They also risk creating a culture of employees who collaborate more without feeling more connected.
Instead, the goal should be to develop new ideas that are not only hashed out, but actually heard by senior management and implemented. To be effective, collaboration platforms require a real evolution in the overall workplace culture. Management should move beyond static business silos to support the healthy sharing of new ideas across diverse project groups.
Collaboration should increase workforce unity.
People willingly choose to use new systems when they can achieve actual benefits from them. On the other hand, people forced to collaborate against their will often resist the process until it becomes counterproductive. For this reason, the most effective organizations measure the success of new collaboration tools based on staff adoption.
Business collaboration software systems have come a long way over the past decade. The original classic collaboration programs, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Sharepoint, gave way to a new generation of tools that allow dispersed colleagues to conduct business around the clock and around the world.
Popular new tools such as Slack, Hipchat and Microsoft Teams have taken a chat-based approach to collaboration. Enterprise systems, including Microsoft Yammer, Salesforce Chatter and Jive, then created Facebook-like social media platforms for business, before Facebook itself introduced its own workplace tool.
Other collaboration platforms such as Dropbox, Box.com and Google Docs allow remote teams to share the editing of online documents and files.
The most effective platforms allow workgroups to propose creative project solutions and vote on shared priorities. Crowd-solving can increase the "democratization of strategy" through team brainstorming, business author Bill Donius wrote in the Huffington Post. He explained that this process “allows a team to quickly identify powerful ideas and potential strategic solutions.” In addition, he said, participants will feel more invested in the outcomes because they helped form the strategies.
All these new tools remain a means to the ultimate end, which is bringing co-workers together. Of course, collaboration is not a one-off project -- it requires continuous adaptation to incorporate new tools and strategies over time.
Re-think workplace collaboration.
Nurturing collaboration requires a positive setting that encourages people to brainstorm ideas and question decisions in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Everyone should recognize that distinct personalities take different approaches to problem-solving, so leaders should encourage colleagues to respect and encourage one another despite their differences.
To keep everyone on the same page, team members should have a regularly scheduled meeting format to share their plans for daily and weekly tasks. Likewise, all successful project outcomes should be communicated to the rest of the group to improve staff morale and promote a “can do” attitude.
It also makes sense for managers to carefully examine how employees pool company resources, form alliances and achieve common objectives, according to Future Think CEO Lisa Bodell, writing in PWC Strategy+Business. Bodell suggested designating some team leader to serve as a connector who can bridge divisional silos and coordinate activities among various work groups.
Another strategy for collaboration involves creating peer-to-peer mentorships that pair people from different business units to share their thinking about new ideas and resources. Such mentoring programs should include written guidelines and deadlines to ensure successful results.
Physical office spaces provide yet another way for bringing people together. Many companies prefer open floor plans to spark spontaneous conversations. Roughly 70 percent of all U.S. offices now feature open workspaces, according to data from the International Management Facility Association.
Yet, even offices with walls, cubicles and partitions can unite colleagues through common areas and break-rooms that include comfortable seating and spaces for meals or conversations. Sometimes, locating people from different departments within the same office space stimulates fresh thinking and enhances collaboration.
Collaborative efforts can enable a business to become much more dynamic by integrating siloed work processes and broadening market opportunities. In this way, truly collaborative workers will achieve new synergies that spark innovations and allow their companies to thrive.