When prospects comes to us looking for an intranet software with social features, one of the main motivators for doing so is the desire to increase collaboration in their workplace.
But is software or technology the answer? Is it fair to expect your intranet platform to magically get staff working together more effectively?
It depends on how we understand collaboration, what factors help or hinder it, and what particular challenges you’re currently experiencing.
Back to Basics: What Is Collaboration?
Collaboration is simply people working together towards a common goal.
In the workplace, collaboration can be mandated. Supervisors can put staff together in teams, give them a list of deliverables, and wait for the results. They can even facilitate team meetings and retreats, provide a budget, and set the stage for effective collaboration to take place.
But collaboration can also be informal and unstructured. Perhaps an employee converses with another at the pantry, and they agree to help each other. They set up a time to meet over lunch, or stay after hours. Emails are exchanged, and the end-result is achieved even if some employees’ contributions are not in their job descriptions.
Either way, collaboration is desirable because it often produces an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is, two or more people working together most often do better than an individual staff member working alone. Collaboration allows enterprise to bring together a variety of expertise and experience, for a business benefit.
Collaboration is good for the individuals involved, too. The process usually becomes a learning experience, because co-workers learn from each other. And when results are good, those who contributed have earned another feather on their caps.
If collaboration is so great, why are we not seeing more of it in the enterprise?
Obstacles to Collaboration
There are many reasons why collaboration may break down, such as:
People are less likely to collaborate with each other when they are not physically together. Add to this differences in time zones and you’ve got an even bigger problem getting people to work together on a project. This is a problem especially for organizations whose staff are geographically dispersed over different areas and time zones.
We’re more likely to cooperate and collaborate with people we like and trust. If you hardly know somebody, have heard terrible things about them, or fear they’re out to get your job, then you cannot be expected to contribute optimally. Same thing happens when we’ve been assigned to a task we dislike or don’t have the skills to carry out.
People need to feel “safe” to contribute, be assured they will be taken seriously, and even be able to make mistakes. In an environment where fear and distrust prevail, collaboration cannot take place.
Employees who are merely going through the motions necessary to collect their pay checks, are not enthusiastic about their jobs and their employers, and don’t care how well the organization does are not going to be star collaborators. They aren’t emotionally attached enough to contribute their best ideas and work. In fact, actively disengaged employees may even sabotage your collaboration efforts.
These are only some of the factors that cause collaboration to break down. Now let’s take a look at how your intranet can help you overcome these obstacles.
Enterprise Collaboration and the Intranet
Overcoming space and time barriers
A social intranet provides a shared workspace that can encourage collaboration. For example, information sharing spaces such as document folders, wikis, and blogs keep relevant documents and knowledge in one place, accessible to project members even if they’re in disparate locations. These spaces are available 24/7, so time is less of an issue. Collaborators can access the files and send their inputs when and where they’re able. They don’t have to be face-to-face, or in close physical proximity.
An intranet calendar keeps everybody in the loop on deadlines, milestones and key activities. Staff can get updates at a glance and record their own milestones for everyone to refer to. The intranet also serves as a kind of group memory. It documents changes, agreements, decisions, etc., in a central location. Collaborators don’t need to chase emails to figure out the latest version of key documents, or to go refresh their memory on what was agreed upon.
Increasing trust and interpersonal relationships
As mentioned in an earlier post, a social intranet increases ambient awareness in the enterprise. Intranet activity streams, in particular, are what contribute to ambient awareness. This, in turn, helps increase empathy, trust, and positive interpersonal relationships in the workplace. This means people will be more willing to help each other, even with things that are beyond their job descriptions and assigned tasks. Spontaneous crowd sourcing occurs more frequently in organizations where employees generally like each other and feel free and safe to contribute.
Other features like information-rich user profiles, employee spotlights, blogs, and commenting on each other’s posts further helps build rapport in the workplace. No doubt this helps to grease the wheels of collaboration.
Intranets can also play a key role in re-engaging employees, and keeping engaged employees motivated and enthusiastic. The intranet, for example, can be a tool to provide recognition to staff. I’ll talk about the role of the intranet in employee engagement in a future post. For now, suffice it to say the intranet helps in this area as well.
What About You?
What obstacles prevent collaboration from flourishing in your organization? Could a social intranet in some way help you overcome them?
Share your experiences and thoughts below.