Our blog

Making collaboration work: culture and change management


14 July 2016

J-P De Clerck

Blogs by author: J-P De Clerck, Digital Consultant


If culture eats strategy for breakfast, change management probably needs lunch. However, as organisations - rightfully - have upped their investments in collaboration technologies, often the human change aspect is overlooked.

It's as Judith Lamont wrote on KMWorld about enterprise social software: "The main catch is that although enterprise social software can support collaboration, it is not effective in the absence of a collaborative culture". The same can be said about all the collaboration platforms we have at our disposal: having them in the organisation doesn't lead to the magic appearance of a collaborative culture.

In her excellent paper, The Collaboration Conundrum, Dr Nicola Millard refers to research by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, essentially stating the same. If collaboration is critical to organisations we need to recruit, encourage and create cultures of collaboration – and that requires leadership and change management. Quoting: "A culture of cooperation cannot spread through an organisation unless it is preached and practiced at all levels".

Preaching and practising collaboration: involvement and prioritisation

Collaboration ConundrumTo realise a truly collaborative culture, preaching means more than just telling collaboration is important. It also means that leadership must have a plan in place whereby collaboration is cherished as a mentality and approach whereby workers get involved and rewarded. A plan in which the individual differences are taken into account and collaboration is not a mantra or end goal but a means to an end. Collaboration is an attitude but it doesn't mean we have to collaborate the whole time if we also want things done.

That's why the word 'practised' is at least as important as 'preached' in the beforementioned quote. A collaborative culture or any other culture, as a set of ideas, habits and social behaviour, needs to grow.

A culture of cooperation cannot spread through an organisation unless it is preached and practiced at all levels

Implementing a (social) collaboration platform can only partially contribute to a collaborative culture. The practice of collaborating, however, over time installs this culture, almost as a natural reflex. And that does require experience, leadership, an equilibrium and prioritisation.

The necessity of a common sense of purpose – at scale

Collaboration is not a "thing". In some circumstances we need to collaborate more than others. Dr Nicola Millard refers to the example of crisis situations where there is an obvious common cause.

When a common cause is present and team members are involved, collaborating on a project or as a team will simply work better. This is confirmed by MIT research which found that 94 percent of high performing organisations instil a strong common sense of purpose amongst employees. That brings us back to leadership and change management. Managers clearly agree that collaboration is essential in today's connected enterprise. However, platforms alone don't cut it. Managing change, putting in place agreements, involving employees and making sure there is no collaboration fatigue due to excessive collaboration demands, is also a leader's role.

There is never a one-size-fits-all solution in business. It's not different with collaboration. The scope of collaboration, the size of a team, the individuality of workers and the trust that is essential in collaboration at scale - what enterprise collaboration essentially is - all matter.

One thing is for sure: collaboration is essential for businesses. However, to really make it work, we need a balance between collaboration and the respect for the personal space of productivity, creativity and just getting things done. And that’s a space everyone needs – some more than others.

Looking for a high return on collaboration and ways to make it happen better? Check out ‘The Collaboration Conundrum’ paper – and let’s talk in the BT Let’s Talk LinkedIn Group.

By BT Let’s Talk guest blogger, J-P De Clerck. J-P is a digital marketing and business analyst. He’s active on the crossroads where marketing, business, customer experience, technologies, IT, media and digital transformation meet. You can connect with him on Twitter and in our Benelux LinkedIn Group.