Thursday 13 September 2007

Thinking, thinking about collaboration

I've been thinking about Matt's response to James Robertson's model for improving how collaboration tools are introduced into organisations. James is correct when he says:

 "It's clear that there's a huge unmet need for this capability"

He then goes on to suggest an idea for a four step model for introducing collaboration. Matt in turn thinks about James' four step model and while agreeing with much of it concludes:

"The collaboration tool space is changing very quickly at the moment. Phase 4 [Coherence; personalised portal-like interface] feels like a utopia at the moment. And given this dynamic environment, a very unlikely utopia. I think many organisations have enough on their plate trying to get to phase 3 [Rich networks; Organisation-wide collaboration]."

Well, here are my thoughts, as this is something I've been thinking about for a long time now too.

  1. Collaboration happens. what matters is how well it happens (insert your measures of choice here).
  2. People will collaborate with what ever tools are on hand (see point 1 above) - and with Web 2.0, choice and accessibility to "unsanctioned" and consumer tools has increased massively.
  3. The capability to collaborate with technology is a combination of factors including willingness, technology and skills.

Overall, my approach to introducing collaboration tools has been a combination of two key themes:

  • The innovation process around how people in an organisation understand that a particular tool is available and how it is  integrated into individual and groups work practices and business processes; and
  • The collaborative infrastructure required to support the introduction and ongoing use of the tool(s).

To me, James is describing the innovation process and some elements of the collaborative infrastructure, where as I would treat them as parallel processes. The issue that Matt points out is the challenge of trying to reach an equilibrium or stability (or perhaps perfection? - see The Search for the Perfect Intranet). In this respect I think the process James is describing should be seen as a cycle, not an end state. In fact if you managed to stabilise your collaborative environment I would be wondering what you have done wrong.

This cycle by the way is taking place at an enterprise level, but also at the level of individual workgroups, teams and projects. This leads me into another observation, that it looks like this process assumes that the collaborative technologies are in place and working but they are just not integrated in a content sense. Web 2.0 is changing the dynamic of getting new technology introduced, but in larger oganisations it can still be a difficult process to get new collaborative technologies formally introduced. I mean, while some of us are starting to talk about unified communications, many are still debating the value of instant messaging.

Still, its good to think about this stuff from time-to-time.

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