Breaking Bad: Culture and Collaboration

Enterprise collaboration is a vast market that spans app-specific collaboration like Salesforce or SAP, document collaboration like Egnyte or Box, unified communications with Cisco, and team messaging like Slack or Facebook Workplace. Generally speaking, when we discuss collaboration in the workplace, we’re talking about team messaging: The real-time, persistent chat capabilities of software platforms like Slack, Facebook Workplace, WebEx Teams, and Microsoft Teams.

Team messaging software is a powerful tool for the modern knowledge worker. It has the potential to accelerate a company’s information exchange and bring together siloed, distributed teams. However, it’s not that simple: Do your homework before selecting and implementing your company’s collaboration software. Don’t throw software at your employees.

Do your homework before selecting and implementing your company’s collaboration software. Don’t throw software at your employees.

Look inward and assess your company’s ways of working; how your people work and want to collaborate. Understand the real need — then, and only then, look at technology. Compare your needs to the strengths and weaknesses of the market’s offerings and choose the option that not only gives you what you need but also stands a good chance of adoption.

“If you build it, they will come”… right?

Your collaboration technology will rise, and fall, based on your people. Software should be designed for your employees: After all, they interact with it daily, and so they define success. Just because it’s available, doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed. Today’s collaboration tools are not the answer for larger systemic cultural and organizational issues.

“The challenges… are not usually in technology but in sociology; they need to help drive employee engagement, an area that the tech organization is not well prepared to address.”

From “Collaboration Success Hinges on Effective Change Management”, Forrester, Apr 10, 2018, p. 3

I’ve come across this “build it and hope” approach a lot. Customers spend little time assessing the need, instead they throw in new technology, get a few people (usually IT or IT liaisons) excited about it, and see what happens. Depending on your culture, this will fail just as fast as it started. For things to grow organically like this, your people need to be creative. They need to see the value this brings to their day-to-day jobs and exert additional energy to want to use it. If there is no value, why bother?

I have seen this approach work as well. In a young workforce, where the 20-to-30-somethings reign supreme, simply opening the door for a team messaging app sticks and spreads like wildfire. It’s in their DNA, it’s what they’re used to. These employees see collaboration as a necessity because that’s how they live outside of work. This immediate adoption can sometimes introduce hesitations with the older workforce, which heightens the need to understand your people groups, and how they all want to work together.

“By 2020, 50% of global workers will be Millennials, and they honed their interaction habits on Facebook”

From “The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Collaboration, Q4 2016”, Forrester, Dec 7, 2016, p3

Understand Your Options

After you better understand your people, and what they want and need to improve collaboration, the natural next step is to dive into finding the right technology.

Over 60% of software decision makers are evaluating or planning to replace their collaboration software.

From “Collaboration Success Hinges on Effective Change Management”, Forrester, Apr 10, 2018, p. 3

My experience with the 60% has been that their current offerings “don’t work”. We, at Slalom, have engaged many enterprises to improve their collaboration. They threw technology at the problem, and it didn’t work: It wasn’t well adopted and was missing core features they assumed would be available. They hoped.

Many enterprises knew it wasn’t the right fit. They grab the easiest, cheapest, fastest collaboration app and blindly push into deployment. This might be paired with an extensive communications plan, and the software is “adopted”, but it’s still not what is needed. This is an acceptable approach if you understand the additional impact and cost in changing platforms later. Change can be difficult for your people, and if you’re moving from one platform to another for the sake of a few feature improvements, you could be facing some significant challenges. Instead, properly assess what it is you hope to get out of a platform and find the right fit ahead of time. Spend the time to do it right: You’ve gone this long without it, why shove the wrong one in so quickly now? Intimate familiarity with your end users’ needs will maximize the likelihood of adoption for the collaboration tool you implement.

Intimate familiarity with your end users’ needs will maximize the likelihood of adoption for the collaboration tool you implement.

Keep in mind the changes

Half the battle is selecting a product that is right for your culture, your way of working. The other half is change management. Engage your employees through change techniques to ensure maximum adoption across your organization. Some tried and true change techniques we’ve applied include: Broadcast best practices and success stories frequently; hold office hours with your experts to answer questions and troubleshoot; select champions across the business, people who will act as change agents to advocate for your new way of working until it sticks. Depending on what you have learned about your culture, you may be able to implement techniques that are more out of the box like scavenger hunts, and other gamification ideas. In most cases, effective adoption needs more than just emails.

In most cases, effective adoption needs more than just emails.

Whatever you do, to make it work for your people you need to know your people.

Your employees are collaborating today

And they’re doing it without specific software. It happens during meetings, phone calls, at the water cooler, at their desks, in the hallways. Is it efficient? Maybe not. Is it breaking silos? Doubtful. Finding the right collaboration technology for your organization can and will improve collaboration, making it more efficient and bringing together disparate groups of people. You need to ensure you understand what the people do now, what they need, find the best software to fit that need, and effectively encourage use and adoption.

Special thanks to Tom Cahill, colleague and change management guru, for providing some valuable guidance and direction for this article.