The Psychology of Collaboration

Are you looking for another  technology solution to enable collaboration? If yes, please hold on. I would suggest to read below lines before going ahead with your search.   

A quick survey of a consulting company (100+ consultants) shows how many technologies are available at the disposal of its employees. 

  • 2+ collaboration solutions e.g. SharePoint
  • 3+ EFSS solutions e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive
  • 3+ IM Tools e.g. Hangout, Lync, Skype
  • 2+ Online Meeting Tools e.g. GTM, Fuze, WebEx etc.
  • Specialized Collaboration platforms e.g. Basecamp, Trello.
  • Video Conferencing Solutions e.g. Polycom
  • IP Telephony e.g. Cisco 

So many technologies being available does not mean that people are collaborating in best possible way. If technology is not a constraint then what else holds back people to collaborate? Let’s look at the non-technical or psychological aspects of building a collaborative environment. 

Collaboration, at its most fundamental level, means that two or more people work together to achieve a common objective. Objective may be  working on project, solving a specific business problem, or simply organizing a family event. You need something more than technology to enable everyone to work together to achieve such objectives.   Let’s look at the few key non-technical factors involved here. 

  • Openness to Learning:

Openness to learn is key to work with other people in a meaningful way. In order to learn, one should have courage to admit his challenges, weaknesses and limitations. No one knows everything in this world.  Once you have this mindset, you will start seeing learning opportunities, that can eventually lead to collaborative environment where people’s skills complement each other and they achieve something greater, beyond capacity of any individual. 

  • Openness to Share

Collaboration is not a one way process. You need,  at least, two people to work together. Along with learning, you must be open to share your knowledge and information. Sharing will motivate other people once they see value of sharing.  Eventually,  they will start sharing whatever they know.  

  • Belief in Common Cause

All participants in collaboration effort must believe in the common cause. Only then they will put their energy and efforts to achieve this objective. Without this belief, you only see problems, not opportunities. 

  • Mutual Trust

Trust is key to create an environment where all participants have mutual respect and they believe in whatever they are saying and doing. Without trust, you will be skeptic about other participants’ motives and will not put your full energy in the task at hand. 

  • Safe Environment

When you share your knowledge and opinion in a group setting, basically you are exposing yourself in front of other people and are becoming vulnerable to their criticism (and potentially sarcasm)). You should strive to create an environment where sharing and learning is encouraged and reinforced while negative behaviors are discouraged. Basically, people should feel safe to share their input. 

People used to collaborate even when there was no SharePoint or Facebook. Technology can definitely help once you have above mentioned values in place. Technology can definitely accelerate the collaboration process and make it efficient. It can also create new possibilities by eliminating the time and space barriers.  However, technology will make no difference if people don’t share and learn, don’t believe in cause, and don’t trust each other. 

What I believe is that collaboration is not a technology problem anymore. Please share your thoughts and experiences regarding building an environment conducive for collaboration. Once you share, only then I can learn…:)

Employee Engagement: How Social Networking and Collaboration Technologies can help

According to Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” survey 2013, only 13 % employees are actively engaged in their workplace. This figure must be troubling for any business leader. Although there are many factors involved in engaging and motivating your employees, we will see how social and collaboration technologies can help business leaders to rally their staff around company vision.

There are different ways employee engagement can be defined. The way I define it is that you feel engaged at work place when you see a connection between yourself, your work, your company and broader society. If any of the link is missing, it impacts your interest and motivation level.  First, let’s see couple of complaints people have when they describe their workplace environment:

  • Feeling of not being listened
  • Lack of clarity around company strategy
  • Job at hand and skills/interests are not aligned
  • Lack of recognition for effort
  • No socialization opportunities at work place

To engage and motivate employees, business leaders have to look at it from multiple dimensions. Many factors may be contributing to low engagement levels. For example, it may be compensation strategy,  communication gaps between management and employees, team structure, company organization ,or any specific management practices being used.

In this digital age, technology can help a lot to alleviate lot of the complaints without incurring significant costs. In subsequent lines, we will see how social and collaboration technology can play its role to address each concern effectively.  Social Networking technologies have already proven their value in consumer space. Now it is time to exploit these benefits in business space.  Here are couple of the approaches that can be used to exploit social and collaboration technologies to enhance employee engagement. This is not the complete list as such about how these technologies can be used. You can tailor these approaches keeping in mind your specific context.

Communicating Company Vision and Strategy:

Often employees find it challenging to relate their work with broader company strategy and roadmap. They cannot see a link between what they are doing and what company is trying to achieve. Corporate Portal can be used for internal communications to share company strategy and how it relates to each department, team and individuals. CEOs can conduct online town hall meetings which can be broadcasted across whole company. CEOs can share broader strategy and explain why company is pursuing specific initiatives and projects .  This will help employees to see how they are contributing to broader company objectives.

Socialization Opportunities:

Often times, people have very well defined jobs and hence they get few interacting opportunities with other people in their workplace. They may become isolated from rest of the company and may know little about what is going on broadly in the company.  Enterprise Social technologies can be used here to create communities around specific topics.  These topics may be related to work or may be generic one. People can then join these communities based on their interest and share knowledge with other community members. This may enable people from different departments to collaborate informally and solve business problems which may not be directly related to their primary job. On other hand, it also creates socialization opportunities to build relationships among employees.

Performance Recognition:

If you have a corporate news feed in your corporate portal, a one line update by a manager, recognizing efforts and performance of an employee,  can do wonders for him as well as for rest of the employees. Public recognition, like this, simply sends a strong message to everyone that management recognizes all the efforts and work done by employees.

Regular Corporate Communication:

Sharing regular updates with employees keeps every one informed. Many times, information is not shared regularly with broader audience which creates communications gaps. People may be unaware of the new exciting project that fellow team is working on. You may be working on a problem which other team has already solved. Such scenarios also indicate opportunities for knowledge sharing. Managers sometimes send email updates which have limited impact. If something is shared on corporate news feed or portal, it stays there forever and has much more impact than occasional emails. Also, this gives a reason to everyone to visit corporate portal.

Opportunities to express yourself

In digital world, it is much easier to share your ideas and opinions. A corporate blog and wiki site can be used to create a platform where everyone can share his or her ideas and get feedback from fellow employees.

Like any other initiative, overdoing or doing it without proper control and oversight may have its own implications. There are specific best practices to make social initiatives successful but I will leave this topic for another day. One thing is sure that social and collaboration technologies have established their value in consumer space. It is up to the business leaders to decide how they can bring these technologies in business world and reap huge benefits out of it.