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When More Isn’t Always Better

Posted by Mark Bennett on May 26, 2009


431286183_372863bb1d_oThere have been a series of excellent posts, particularly Yuri’s, the last month dealing with the issue of getting value from Enterprise 2.0. Some companies are finding value while some are not having as much success doing so. Part of the problem is that there is an error in assuming that more collaboration is always better, when what’s really needed is more effective collaboration. As Hutch Carpenter points out, collaboration itself is not a benefit, but rather a means to an end. The objectives a company might be after vary greatly and could include higher productivity, enhanced innovation, increased employee engagement, etc. which in turn deliver business results in the form of increased revenue or lower costs (i.e. more profit). Collaboration is effective when it supports those objectives and results.

It’s possible to have collaboration that’s not effective. This can range from small-scale collaboration problems such as an overloaded key technical resource that becomes a bottleneck to the progress of several dependent teams to full-blown turf wars between two departments that results in a huge project being cancelled because the window of opportunity passes.

Collaboration tools by themselves don’t cause these ineffective, or even destructive, collaboration problems and by themselves won’t solve them either. However, these tools can be used by an organization that wants to address these types of problems, as part of the process. For example, they can help identify where overloaded key resources are and how to offload work to somewhere else. They can help find where the breakdown and conflict between two departments is centered so that it can be addressed (e.g. not starting the joint project at all under the current conditions, better prepare the organizations prior to project start, adjust the respective objectives of each department, etc.)

The point is that the tools and platforms in Enterprise 2.0 are only as effective as the organization is motivated and prepared to put them to good use. That use could be either or both addressing current obstacles to effective collaboration as well as enhancing current collaborations. What’s great about these tools and platforms, but sometimes overlooked, is that not only can they enhance collaboration, but they also can measure it. Organizations can use this measurement to find and test ways to make collaboration more effective. And that requires motivation and action by the organization and its leadership.

Two excellent books that are out now that cover these issues are:

Driving Results Through Social Networks: How Top Organizations Leverage Networks for Performance and Growth by Rob Cross and Robert J. Thomas – This covers the whole range of scale from individual performance and productivity impact of collaboration to the impact of collaboration on organization innovation, projects, and processes as well as the impact of organization culture and strategy on collaboration. There are many solid use cases provided.

Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results by Morten T. Hansen – This is primarily focused on large-scale collaboration and paints it in the starker colors of “good vs. bad” collaboration. Hansen lays out the hidden traps companies fall into with collaboration, identifies the barriers to collaboration, and three levers to avoid the traps and overcome the barriers. It has many use cases as well. Oliver Marks has a great post about this research and our colleague Christine found this great Economist article about the book.

Photo: barnism

4 Responses to “When More Isn’t Always Better”

  1. Very timely and well-made points, Mark. There is so much energy and discussion about technologies to increase and enhance collaboration in the enterprise, that we all need a reminder that just putting a tool in place is all that is required to produce the desired business results. And thanks for the book recommendations as well.

  2. Meg Bear said

    Exactly right Mark. Solutions (especially technical ones) without a clear identification of what you are trying to accomplish, are not going to solve the right problems.

  3. Yes!

  4. [...] that allow them to achieve their purpose, the “why” at the center of the golden circle. This purposeful collaboration drives their individual and team performance as well as the performance of their organization to [...]

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