An oft-cited Harvard Business Review article on this topic calls out four key elements as being essential to building a collaborative enterprise: defining and building a shared purpose; cultivating an ethic of contribution; developing processes that enable people to work together in flexible but disciplined projects; and creating an infrastructure in which collaboration is valued and rewarded. While that article (link below) was published almost three years ago, experts in this area say its main points remain highly relevant.
“We absolutely agree with that synopsis,” says Kasper Hulthin, a co-founder of online collaborative work platform Podio and a director at Citrix, which acquired Podio in 2012. “As a company, our DNA is inherently social, democratic, and driven by enabling people to work the way they want to. It’s what I and the other Podio co-founders (Jon Froda and Anders Pollas) set out to do at the beginning.”
For Podio, that means being very clear in all communications about the company’s direction, something facilitated through bi-weekly meetings with all team members across Europe and the U.S. to bring everyone together in alignment with its common goals. “We go over what’s working and what’s not working for each team, making sure to prioritize transparency and bring insights from each team to the entire global group,” Hulthin explains. Podio also uses those meetings to underline the company’s shared purpose. “Regardless of what technology tools your business uses to get work done, transparency and making sure everyone is passionate about the bigger vision and the higher goal fosters a collaborative culture,” he says.
All organizations face challenges when it comes to encouraging collaboration, says Lauren Trees, research program manager at APQC, a member-based nonprofit that champions business benchmarking, best practices, and knowledge management research. The biggest ones are that employees feel they don’t have the time to collaborate and that incentive structures often are set up to discourage collaboration. “Small and medium-sized organizations may face additional challenges creating consistent, formal processes for collaboration where they are needed,” she adds.
APQC’s research repeatedly shows that organizations succeed when they:
• Teach employees how and when to collaborate.
• Make collaboration part of people’s jobs.
• Recognize and reward employees for collaboration.
Torsten Raak, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Unify Inc., a global communications software and services company, argues that people are already collaborative by nature. The key to harnessing that tendency for business success is figuring out how best to work with the many fragmented tools now available. “It’s not that the collaborative culture is broken, but it’s fractured and needs piecing together through a unified communications [UC] system that covers security, mobility, interface design, and features that help the ‘anywhere worker’ connect most effectively,” he says.
Jason Corsello, vice president of corporate strategy and marketing at Cornerstone OnDemand, a provider of talent management, learning, and performance management software delivered as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), counsels businesses that have not been particularly collaborative to date to, “Start small but aim big. Embracing technology, especially cloud-based technology, can have a huge impact. Get executive level support, especially from the CEO. If employees see the top leader embracing collaboration, it will immediately gain impact and [be embraced by] the employees.”