Most Collaboration Tools Don’t Let Us Collaborate

Work together, my friends

Collaboration. Teamwork. Partnership. Super buzzwords that have seemingly infused themselves with every part of our lives, within the business world and outside. In our last article, we talked about how fundamental collaboration has been to the workforce, and how it has even redefined what decades old office spaces should look like. However, we offered a differing view on how much focus should truly be on “collaboration” and what trends we should be paying attention to address the shift in work that the “collaboration economy” should support.

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In an effort to help collaboration, incumbent tech, and productivity companies have over-enthusiastically offered “solutions” that have created more problems than they have solved. Plagued most by these problems are the large public institutions that shape so many lives across the world. These large corporations deploy these tools to their employees thinking this will foster a more collaborative environment (whatever that means) when instead it reduces efficiency and wastes corporate dollars, and often times in an environment that sticks to a very old model of operating and decision making.

As John Hagel comments on this old model: “The challenge is that in a more rapidly changing world with more uncertainty, that model, which used to produce great efficiency, is actually now highly inefficient, because you have these tightly specified activities, and all of a sudden these unexpected events coming at you that aren’t in the manual, that haven’t been written up. So now you scramble at the last minute to try to figure out how are you going to respond to this unexpected event, and huge inefficiency, where in fact there is technology and collaborative decision making they could be much more effective and efficient in responding to those kinds of unexpected events.”

To truly support collaboration, we first should understand what the value in collaboration is and identify how we are currently screwing it up.

Carlos Dominguez, a former employee of 21 years and SVP of Cisco, and current President at Sprinklr, suggested that the value of collaboration comes from working with a cohort focused on improving results in the areas of:

  1. Improvement of customer satisfaction or service
  2. Efficiency — Pulling together people and technologies to focus on strategic initiatives for the company will have better results. Especially if collaboration occurs across functions and breaks through the greatest enemy of efficiency and progress: red-tape.
  3. Innovation — It’s no secret that pulling together people with different experiences and different skill sets can produce products and services that have never been seen before.

However, this definition has come to be too broad, and more buzzword filled than actionable. It also suggests that an ability to cross-sell or manage an existing account is a form of collaboration, which does not capture the true meaning of collaboration. To further enhance the definition of collaboration, and understand its true value we can limit the borders of collaboration by recognizing what it is NOT.

  1. It ain’t a style of leadership — Collaboration’s focus is the result, not the people within the unit. It is not about consensus or getting everyone involved. To that end, it’s important to know who has the final decision.
  2. It’s not good for everything, so recognizing what to actually collaborate on is crucial.
  3. It is not cross-selling — Handing off a sale of an existing client is not collaboration. Collaboration is working across different disciplinary silos to tackle difficult problems.

The real issue with today’s tools is that they have forgotten what collaboration is at its core. Instead, they disguise communication as collaboration. Slack, Salesforce Chatter, Workplace by Facebook, and Microsoft Teams claim collaboration but are fundamentally just neat ways of communicating. They miss the point of producing meaning insights or products from the “work” that has occurred on their platform. What’s worse is that this type of non-productive collaboration is still being written about as a win for companies looking to increase their internal collaboration!

Take for example this article about Rodan & Fields using Workplace by Facebook to consolidate software platforms and create a place for people to interact. Nowhere do they talk about what has actually been produced from this virtual collaboration. What has been produced from using Workplace by Facebook?

As Brian Anderson, CMO of Pop states: “Companies have to make more than half-hearted attempts at collaboration: Instead, they’re realizing only half of the value of collaboration by creating better ways to discuss ideas, but putting fewer of them in place.”

Collaboration is more than just the function of people interacting. It is a culture. Valuable insights must or end products must be pulled out of collaboration AND be seen and acted upon by senior leadership. In this way, the value is actually created through collaboration. The most effective platforms allow teams to identify problems and work together to create solutions to difficult problems. Google G Suite products are a great example of how a tool can allow for live collaboration and at the same time create a “product” (ie. Google doc or spreadsheet) that can be presented to senior leadership as a solution to a problem.

Collaboration is a culture, not a one-off situation, that must be fostered and supported. At Source, we are working to build a solution that allows for collaboration across technological platform boundaries and still allows for an individual to do their best work. We wish to foster true trustless collaboration and be the inspiration for doing your best work. Over the next six weeks, we will be exploring industry trends related to the evolution of work and work tools and how these changes impact incumbent organizations.

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