7 barriers to collaborative working and how to overcome them

By Ant Cousins, Director of Customer Success at ProFinda.

Collaboration is a buzz word that’s been used and abused a lot over the last few years, especially with the growth of Enterprise Social Network tools claiming to ‘make it happen’.

The simple truth is collaboration is already happening all the time between employees. But it’s often only really effective at local levels. To make it work as well across an entire business there are barriers to overcome. Here’s a look at the top 7, and how to overcome them.

  1. Fear-based cultures. If an employee is afraid of looking weak or incapable, they’re less likely to feel able to reach out to others for help, meaning they’re more likely to sit in their silo. They’re more likely to just keep churning out the same product or service without finding ways to cross-fertilise ideas or innovate. To overcome this barrier, have senior leadership set visible examples of having asked their peers or subordinates for help. Reward those that ask for help and foster a culture of innovation based on ‘doing it better’, to empower employees to do so.
  2. Status-based cultures. If you manage to get employees to feel comfortable reaching out, you might still need to overcome the hurdle that nobody wants to share their knowledge. After all, knowledge is power. Unless, you recognise and reward those that do share their knowledge through employee recognition schemes or even through ‘corporate citizen’ objectives in their performance reporting. But don’t forget to add those same objectives to the line manager’s objectives, or else they’ll potentially be a blocker.
  3. Employee dependency awareness. When employees join an organisation they’re often ‘dependent’ on their colleagues to help them understand where to go, who to talk to and ‘how it’s done around here’. After a while they become independent — able to conduct most activities without relying on others. But there is a level of awareness above this that accelerates collaboration called ‘inter-dependant’. That is being aware of how their work can impact, and be impacted by other areas of the business. The more inter-dependant your employees are the more naturally they will collaborate because they can identify where the risks and opportunities are in their work and who to reach out to. In order to increase the number of inter-dependant employees you have, try establishing some work schemes like cross-training, job shadowing, communities of practice or, at least, encourage employees to socialise more!
  4. Time. If employees think it will take too much time to find the right person to collaborate with, they’re just going to re-invent the wheel themselves or churn out the usual product or service. Collaboration across international boundaries, or even across the road, won’t get off the ground. You’ve got to make it as quick and easy as possible for employees to find the right person to work with, but you also need to specifically build in time in any project or service for ‘innovating’. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised when your employees deliver exactly what they did before.
  5. Poor employee profiling. If employees are reaching out to each other, and willing to help those that come to them, great, but this will only work where employees can find the right person to help them. To accelerate collaboration in large organisations, you’ve got to have decent profiles which present all the explicit, as well as tacit, knowledge an employee has. But relying on employees to fill in their own profiles isn’t going to work as we all know. So, invest in smart integrations combined with some Artificial Intelligence techniques like Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to do this automatically and better than an employee would.
  6. Poor search capabilities. If employees don’t know how to do something, chances are they’re not going to be great at phrasing their requirements. Poorly worded questions mean poor searches and therefore poor responses. In addition, most internal search mechanisms default to simple keyword searches for out of date stored knowledge or posting questions to broad groups or networks, hoping the right person sees it. Again, a painful experience with poor results is liable to encourage the employee not to bother in the future. AI can now help us ask better questions by analysing previous questions and comparing profiles in the same way that dating websites and media platforms ‘suggest’ or ‘recommend’ results to us. The data is there, we just need the platforms to access it.
  7. Flexibility. We used to come to the office to work. Collaboration happened because we sat next to people, knew what they’d done before and what they were good at. But then the office changed. Hot-desking and flexible working hours came in and more people started working remotely. The cloud is now our office space. But some employees still struggle with heavyweight laptops, tied to on-prem solutions which limit their connectivity. Employees should be able to connect and collaborate on any device, any time of day or night from anywhere in the world, with anyone inside or ‘outside’ the traditional company boundaries. Ensure your collaboration solutions are cloud-based and can handle the complex access control of today’s borderless workforce.

What do you think? Have I missed a key one?

About the author

Antony Cousins is the Director of Customer Success at ProFinda — connect with him at antony.cousins[at]profinda.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.