A friend on Google Reader shared this Web Worker Daily article, Corporate Culture, Not Technology, Drives Online Collaboration by Will Kelly. I completely agree with the sentiment, but some of the specific examples worried me.
It is not enough to just deploy the latest collaboration tools, whether that is Microsoft SharePoint; Office Communications Server; Google Apps; a corporate VoIP telephony system; mobile devices like the BlackBerry or iPhone; or the latest online collaboration tool reviewed on WebWorkerDaily. The challenge is getting people using them — and for that you need a collaborative corporate culture.
What are those elements of corporate culture that Will Kelly links to collaboration?
- Flexible schedules
- No knowledge archipelagoes
- Presence beyond the office (and regular office hours)
- Technically savvy employees
- Supportive management
Of these, it is clear to me that #5 is the most important, but I would go further and say that management (and leadership in general) need to model the behaviors desired in the organization. As has been discussed recently, a key element in creating any culture is what does the leadership do? Do the leaders demonstrate "collaborative" behaviors? Do they expect people to work together to accomplish a task, and at the same time demonstrate this with their staff?
What about those other elements? Number 1 and 2 are good evidence that collaboration might exist. I'm not so sure about #3, particularly in the way it is described. And I disagree with #4 - collaboration has been happening long before technology appeared on the scene. What you need are employees who are willing to work together. Granted, employees that are spread all over the planet need to connect with one another on the phone and other technologies. But the behavior I would expect is that they are actively working together, not merely sending each other emails and then waiting for a response. There is an element where the technology comes into play: if someone comes into the project and is uncomfortable with the technologies at play, then the group must work together to help them come up to speed.
Actually, this (bringing someone new into the project) is a struggle in many respects. They need to understand the technical details of the project, of course. But they also need to come up to speed quickly with what has happened and what is expected to happen. Having an ability to step back and review this together is another one of those important elements of being able to work together successfully (double loop learning anyone?).