Collaboration: Motivation and Ability

IMG_0974Organizations that purposely embark upon initiatives to increase collaboration do so because they’ve successfully identified the reasons why the time and effort will be of benefit. Efforts are also more successful when there’s a deliberate plan in which leaders assess when collaboration is appropriate, define desired outcomes, and commit to understanding and removing the barriers that may currently exist in their organization.

The first step, before anything else kicks off, is to assess the existing attitudes and behaviors of the people in the organization to determine if people ready or if, perhaps, they are either unwilling and/or unable to collaborate.

Barriers to collaboration will either be due to motivational issues or ability issues and understanding what currently exists allows leaders to either take action that makes people willing to collaborate or take action that enables motivated individuals to collaborate throughout the organization. 

Motivational Barriers 

There may be various reasons that individuals choose not to collaborate. What individual behaviors, attitudes or cultural practices exist that may foster  unwillingness in individual or groups of employees?  Some common reasons are:

  • Protection of self-interest
  • A belief in self-reliance
  • Fear of being viewed as unknowledgeable or weak
  • Competitive relationships (sometimes self-imposed, sometimes institutional culture) such as department vs. department of desire to “own” results
  • Perception that collaboration takes ‘too much time’
  • Organizational power struggles
  • Company programs (i.e. HR compensation, incentive or recognition programs)  that reward employees primarily (or only) for their individual work and not for helping others

Ability Barriers

Individuals may desire to collaborate with others but are unable to do so for any number of reasons:

  • People are unable to find the information, resources or individuals that can provide assistance
  • Large organizations, in particular, may have vast resources spread across wide geographies or systems and there are insufficient networks to connect people
  • Sharing tacit knowledge with other, whether that knowledge is in books, brains or technologies, is often difficult
  • Lack of trust, respect and relationships with potential collaborative partners

Once organizational leaders understand if people are either unwilling (motivational) or unable (ability) to collaborate, solutions can be devised to break down those barriers. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways including recruiting and hiring people with an inclination/desire to ask for help and share with others; appraising employee performance on not just individual performance/results but also the employee’s contributions and willingness to assist others; and eliminating the ‘stranger’ problem in the organization by encouraging relationship building.


Visit the blog tomorrow when we’ll be discussing Collaboration: The Role of the Leader. View yesterday’s post in this series on collaboration. 


Social Then. Social Now. #NewWaytoWork

Ibm_px_xt_colorWhile I’m certainly not a proponent of holding meetings for the sake of meetings there is value in getting together face-to-face with co-workers, colleagues or clients to ruminate, ideate, and, perhaps, innovate. Hearing a voice, looking someone in the eye, and making a human connection adds richness and depth to any working relationship.

That being said, the typical “team meeting” is not necessarily the optimal manner in which to accomplish any of that. Over the course of my working life I’ve attended my fair share of excruciatingly painful meetings and recently got to reminiscing about how – not that long ago! – the process usually went something like this:

  • The manager sent an email requesting agenda items for the upcoming weekly meeting; this email chain quickly grew to massive unwieldy proportions.
  • 85% of the invitees replied; the annoying ones used “reply all”
  • Based on the newly projected length of the gathering the manager decided to hold a ‘working lunch’ (11 AM – 2 PM).
  • She then sent another email asking everyone to choose a preferred food item (lunch to be delivered!) from an attached menu.
  • At least two team members responded (“reply all”) and reminded the manager of their food allergy and/or their need for a vegetarian/low-carb/fat-free option.
  • The day before the meeting the manager emailed the agenda to the team and, inevitably, several people requested changes or additions thus resulting in yet another lengthy email chain.
  • One hour before the start of the meeting the manager (or her designee) printed 15 copies of the agenda and all supporting documents (collated and stapled).
  • The meeting began at 11:15 (when the last straggler finally arrived) and lunch was delivered at 1:15 by which time all in attendance were famished. Despite agreements to end on time the meeting dragged on until 2:55 PM.
  • The next morning the cycle began anew.

Note: Naturally before the widespread usage and availability of email (i.e. back in the dark ages when I started working) these tactical planning maneuvers occurred through a combination of telephone calls and memos delivered via inter-office mail.

Obviously, all of this tomfoolery occurred before any actual productive work was done.

Lunch, however, was usually good.

Social Then. Social Now.

Fast forward to 2015 and the new way of working includes social workflow in an entirely different fashion. Organizations are using Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) to communicate, collaborate and work together in a whole new manner.

This is not just taking broken and ineffective processes and layering technology on top of them in some approximation of workflow optimization. Rather, incorporating ESNs and Online Communities in the workplace is about replicating the social and personal interactions that we crave as human beings while using technology to support and enable work. It’s removing the ridiculousness of that 3-hour team meeting yet maintaining the personal interactions and relationship building fostered by gathering together (even virtually) with a shared purpose.

While ESNs offer analytics, dashboards, and repositories for data and documents, many also incorporate video, messaging capabilities, and networking channels that promote real-time interaction. It’s pretty cool stuff; I was once part of a team that implemented an ESN to drive communication and cross-functional collaboration and we saw an increase in both the sharing of tacit knowledge and innovation focused on both short-term project completion and long-term planning and revenue growth.

As a member of IBMs #NewWaytoWork Futurist Group I recently received access to the latest IDC Study entitled: Worldwide Enterprise Social Networks and Online Communities 2015–2019 Forecast and 2014 Vendor Shares. If you want to read it (there’s some interesting information) you can download the report here with a quick registration. Also a shout out to our friends at IBM; they’ve been named the Worldwide Market Share Leader in Enterprise Social Networks for 6th Consecutive Year by IDC.

Bringing the Horse to the Water

Just because we build it – or implement it – doesn’t mean they’ll come though. Horse to water…am I right? If there’s a story I’ve heard many times over it’s “we reviewed products, vetted solutions, purchased a technology, and trained employees. But no one’s using it.”

Implementing anything new into an organization requires that a few key things occur; the initiative must be championed at the highest level while simultaneously being embraced and promoted by employees in the trenches who are gaining the benefit. Are change management skills required? Absolutely. Which sometimes becomes a challenge for leaders and HR professionals who, let’s face it, have often been the slowest ones out of the gate regarding technology; something they’ve viewed as inherently complex, frightening and creating transparency with which they’ve never been comfortable.

Remember though…those leaders and HR folks got just as nervous, once upon a time, about instant messaging, cell phones and email. (I have to go where and check what? I have to keep it open all day?).

Have you implemented an Enterprise Social Network? Thinking about it? How did you reinforce behaviors or promote new actions? What lessons did you learn?

Let’s discuss!

Note: follow IBM Social Business on Twitter and check out the #NewWaytoWork tour; events are scheduled for all over the country!

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