To ensure effective collaboration, it’s crucial for strategy to come before technology. An enterprise needs to analyze its collaboration needs, decide on and implement policies aimed at improving collaboration, and support a culture of collaboration. And only after that will an enterprise be able to decide which collaboration technology and tools
best align with the developed strategy.
On the way to effective collaboration, an enterprise can face various challenges both in strategic and technological terms. What follows is a look at some of the most common ones and suggestions for solving them.
Four Strategic Challenges
At a strategic level, an enterprise can face these challenges:
1. Lack of a company-wide collaboration strategy
Many enterprises don’t consider collaboration to be an organization-wide cultural value. In such organizations, senior management nurtures collaboration occasionally, such as for work on company-wide projects.
Solution: An enterprise should treat collaboration as one of its major directions and develop a collaboration strategy accordingly. It should nurture collaboration at the company-wide level and encourage each employee to learn how to collaborate effectively. For example, employees should know how to ask for input from others, provide constructive feedback, use negotiation skills, and reach a consensus.
2. Misinterpretation of collaboration
The terms collaboration and cooperation are often confused, but there is an important difference between them. When cooperating, people work together and exchange information and resources in support of each other’s goals. In its turn, collaboration presupposes working together towards a shared goal. It results in creating something new not from individual effort but a collective team effort.
Solution: An enterprise must be sure to weave the correct understanding of collaboration into its , and organize related initiatives in line with this strategy. For example, an enterprise should support interaction, idea sharing, and debate across the company, which leads to collaborative ways of working.
3. The lack of collaboration support
Most enterprises recognize only individual performance. So, it’s quite difficult to motivate employees to collaborate in organizations where successful teamwork can’t be rewarded. Employees will look at collaboration as time that could be better spent on improving their individual performances.
Solution: Enterprises should create a supportive environment that would encourage employees to communicate and share information in way that facilitates how they perform their working tasks. For example, enterprises should consider distributing bonuses to all team members for the successful completion of a project.
Enterprises with controlled company cultures are characterized by strict monitoring of all business activities, rigid hierarchy, and excessive bureaucracy. According to the controlled culture approach, the most value is given to highly structured and organized teams, which tend to follow rules to the letter. Thus, employees don’t have the freedom to make decisions, which becomes a serious obstacle to collaboration.
Solution: To enable effective collaboration, an enterprise should give up the micromanaging approach and allow more freedom to employees. This will increase their initiative and improve creative thinking. Managers can still outline best practices and guidelines for collaboration without interfering into the process. Also, they can track the performance of employees with the help of a project management tool. The lower the level of micromanagement, the more freedom employees have to share their points of view regardless of their positions. There will be room for experiment, failure and learning from mistakes, thinking together, valuing each other’s perspective and contributions for new ideas to emerge.
Three Technology Challenges
Technological obstacles to collaboration are as follows:
1. A disconnected workforce
The disconnection of people in big companies can be of two types:
- Geographical disconnection -- As organizations grow, collaboration becomes difficult to manage as workloads expand and employees are scattered across multiple departments. Moreover, there can be teams working from home or remote offices. In such a situation, departments and teams become estranged and the likelihood for effective collaboration and communication falls off dramatically. This, in turn, can lead to slow decision-making and other issues.
- Emotional disconnection -- Geographically dispersed employees may lack personal contact when communicating with colleagues from different offices or countries, and this can worsen communication. The thing is that accurate conveying of attitudes and feelings is important for communication, which is impossible without non-verbal signs like gestures and facial expressions. And non-verbal communication is next to impossible to reach without real interaction.
Solution: Providing the right technology to support each employee regardless of location is crucial to effective collaboration. Usually, cloud-based collaboration groupware is the right choice for providing connectivity among dispersed teams and creating a seamless working environment. Collaboration tools allow employees to share files, co-author documents, create, and find content quickly and easily.
Advanced collaboration software, including mixed reality, can help to eliminate emotional disconnection between people as it creates communication experiences similar to in-person communications. For example, mixed reality offers a stronger presence effect than video conferencing alone, providing vivid and memorable experiences to users. Also, mixed reality can help to create an image of a room in the company’s remote office and provide an image of an employee visiting this office.
2. Difficulty in adapting to a new technology
Adoption of a new technology can be challenging, both for new employees unfamiliar with the collaboration tools in use at the enterprise or when rolling out new tools for company-wide use. Ineffective work and decreased productivity are results in either case.
Solution: Leaders are powerful instruments in facilitating change. So, senior management can be the first to use a new collaboration tool. If their experience is positive, they can show this tool in action to other employees and promote its use across the company. Also, they can arrange training and invite consultants who will explain to employees everything they need to know about the tool. As for quick adoption of tools by newcomers, training materials should be available for them, for example, in the company’s knowledge base.
3. Disconnection of collaboration tools
Disconnection of tools can be caused by several reasons:
- Different tools -- It’s a common situation when different teams or departments in an enterprise use different collaboration tools. This makes it harder for employees to find the information they need to get work done, as there’s no transparency through an enterprise’s processes. For example, a production team in a manufacturing company can’t freely access CRM to check a contract’s terms, as CRM is a department-specific system accessible only by the sales team. Surely, the production team can have a copy of the contract but it can’t track changes that can be done to it and needs the sales team to notify them in case of any changes.
- Wrong tools -- An enterprise can try to introduce a new collaboration tool without prior analyzing whether its UI is convenient and features aren’t superfluous or complex to grasp. As a result, user adoption can be low.
- Duplicate tools -- Employees can use duplicate tools for the same tasks, which also leads to inconsistency of collaboration tools across the enterprise. For example, employees can use Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Skype for Business, and Slack for messaging at the same time. If they have many contacts in all of them, sooner or later they can feel that they type a message every 30 seconds. What’s more, similar or not, too many tools cause many distractions, negatively affecting employees’ productivity.
Solution: The best way to enable consistency of collaboration tools across an enterprise is to opt for a flexible and scalable tool that will comprise content management (including a centralized knowledge base), project management, and communication features. All these features can be found in an intranet that can unite employees across the enterprise. The intranet’s ability to easily integrate with other systems can help to connect all enterprise systems (CRM, ERP, HR, etc.) and create a unified collaboration space.
The best way to tackle enterprise challenges is starting from the strategic side. An enterprise should create and support collaboration culture across the company, encourage teamwork and train employees on effective ways of collaboration. In terms of technology, an integrated collaborative environment can solve enterprise collaboration challenges. This environment can be achieved with the help of such tools as an intranet. To enable intranet-driven collaboration for both internal users (including employees working remotely) and external users like partners and vendors, enterprises should opt for a cloud collaboration solution.