Collaboration Isn’t Working: What We Have Here is a Chasm writes Deb Lavoy in CMS Wire.
Why do teams fail to act the way we think they will? Are we oversimplifying the notion of team? What about organizations? Where is the deeper insight on the relationship between teams and organizations? Why isn’t a sophisticated vocabulary breaking out? Why do we not yet have 100 words for different kinds of collaboration and teams, as expert in it as we think Eskimos are about snow? What is the difference between an intranet, a community and a team?
My immediate response was to say to myself, why of course it isn’t working, based on my own observations and client experiences. Collaboration is only part of the solution to building social or open businesses. I have looked at the two types of behaviours necessary in a social enterprise: collaboration and cooperation. Cooperation differs from collaboration in that it is sharing freely without any expectation of reciprocation or reward. Try to get people to openly cooperate in most businesses and they will be reprimanded for not being focused on their jobs, the bottom line, or shareholder value. However, cooperation contributes to the REAL bottom line: the entire business ecosystem.
One other necessary change in becoming a real social business is much more difficult. Both Don Tapscott (via Ross Dawson) and I see certain principles necessary for open networked business. Transparency, Collaboration, Sharing, and Narration are all relatively easy. Empowerment, or distributed power, is rarely, if ever, discussed when it comes to social business. It’s the big gorilla in the room that can scare owners, executives, and managers senseless. But we have the technology to move away from command & control, because, as Gwynne Dyer clearly shows, “Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.” We no longer have that communications problem in business.
Social business lacks overarching principles. Social business is a means to an end, not an end in itself. For me the objective is clearly the democratization of the workplace. Many business leaders shirk away from such thoughts. Wirearchy, as Deb notes, is an excellent example of such a principle [notice the bit about “power & authority”]. It sounds more like a democracy than a well-oiled industrial business machine.
“Wirearchy: a dynamic flow of power and authority based on trust, knowledge, credibility and a focus on results enabled by interconnected people and technology.”
Vendors of collaboration platforms are selling tools that can enable a more democratic workplace, but most clients don’t want that, so vendors don’t mention it. Business just wants more efficient and effective work. Networks, by their very nature, subvert hierarchies, whether those in charge like it or not. But hyper-connected work environments require different operating principles. That’s the big shift that has happened over the past two decades. It’s becoming much more obvious now because people outside the business structures are seeing the value of cooperation in a networked world; Wikipedia being the best-known example. Many in business still need to wake up to the notion of cooperating with your environment, your customers, your suppliers, and especially your workers.
Until workplaces becomes more cooperative, enterprise collaboration software will amount to very little. Social business is just a hollow shell without democracy (I wrote that a year ago and little has changed). Businesses can harness the powers of knowledge networks by promoting cooperative behaviours, within an overarching organizing principle like Wirearchy. While it’s not about the technology, the technology has changed everything. I cannot see any other way that businesses will remain relevant in a networked world other than by becoming more open, and democratic.