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Collaboration: culture and architecture

Architecture - Futuro UFOWhile I sit in the house, watching trees wave in the winds from Hurricane Sandy, I am catching up with some reading and thinking.  JP Rangaswami's Continuing to muse lazily about sharing at work blog post from last week had a useful differentiation between the tools and behavior that I liked.

When I joined one of the first things I noticed was that there was a culture of sharing, above and beyond the architecture of sharing that services like Chatter provide. People felt comfortable sharing things, it seemed to be in their very spirit. Was it because of something about the way we hired people? Was it because senior management set an example in leadership? Was it because we were still a relatively young company? Was it something in the air?

I think this distinction is useful. We have plenty of tools available to us, and there are many examples of success stories using just about any of them.  There are similar examples of the tools "not working."  That's because the tools don't do the work, they just make the work possible / different / easier.  It is up to the people in the organization to pick up the tools, learn them, and find ways to do their work with the tools. In other words, how do they behave with those new tools in the toolbox?

Culture is a collection of repeated behaviors.  Sharing is one of those behaviors. It might be innate to how humans work. And it can be encouraged or discouraged by other behaviors and attitudes of people in leadership positions. This is separate from the tools and architecture you have. A strong culture of sharing might be hampered by the lack of connection that some tools can provide, but it won't be eliminated entirely. On the other hand, the best tools can't make the culture appear.

Thought: There is a similar challenge in the "continuous improvement" world. Continuous improvement is a mindset that should be built into the culture, otherwise systems thinking approaches like Theory of Constraints or Lean won't have a chance to become the way of doing business.  

[Photo: "Architecture - Futuro UFO" by watz]

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