“Building a collaborative enterprise is about a lot more than just some new software tools, it’s about fundamental changes to culture and behavior,” writes IDC Group Vice President, Michael Fauscette. According to Fauscette, the key to enabling office collaboration really all boils down to two major principal questions: 1) How do you create a culture where employees feel that working in a collaborative manner, using enterprise-wide collaboration tools is the “right” way to work? 2) What kinds of changes are necessary to get employees to embrace collaborative behavior at work? In other words, if you want to develop a collaborative organization well it all comes down to changing employees’ mind set.

One of the largest problems business face today is that they “operate in an environment that does not encourage collaboration, even if they say they do,” says Fauscette. Most companies have evolved to the point where they’ve ended up placing a great deal of structure on the individual rather than the team. For example, workers are typically evaluated on individual performance. Similarly, individual excellence is one of the major paths to career success. “Incentives are built around excelling as an individual, recognition generally comes from individual effort, and in general organizational structure has not encouraged employees to work beyond their group, division or department,” says Faucette. If you are unable to change the culture, you will never change behavior.

Usually change is a slow process. It involves many different activities across many different departments. Approaching this change in a formal, project atmosphere is very important to help increase the chances of success. With that in mind, Fauscette has several recommendations that can help facilitate the necessary culture shift:

  • Executive Sponsorship – Ok look, I know this seems like a bit of a no-brainer but it’s true. Nothing kills a project faster than not having executive buy-in. This said, executives can’t just pay it lip service “they must demonstrate that they too, are approaching work differently,” points out Fauscette. For example, if new tools are rolled-out, executives not only have to be on them, but also have to be visibly using them.
  • Incentivise and Reward Collaborative Behavior – “Change incentives and rewards to encourage collaborative behavior, not individual accomplishment. If you do not do this, you will not get a shift in culture and you will not get the behavior you want,” says Fauscette. Think of it this way: the way in which you reward your employees says a lot about what’s important to executives.
  • Clearly Explain the Value Add – One of the best ways to help get individuals to change is by clearly explaining “what’s in it for them.” Fauscette suggests using as many use cases and scenarios where collaboration is necessary as you can. Once you have some case studies created, be sure to incorporate them into this plan. Using stories about collaborative situations and expected outcomes helps make it real for employees.
  • Actively Solicit Feedback – Be sure to ask for employee feedback and more importantly, take action on it. Or in other words, become a listener. Remember that crowdsourcing is a powerful tool.

Your ultimate goal is to take this culture and make it a reality. To facilitate this, collaborative companies need to implement some type of social collaboration tool set. As part changing corporate behaviors, it’s important to get as many employees as possible using the new tool as possible. And just as Fauscette had tips to help culture change, he has some great pointers to help get employees using these new tools as well.

  • Identify Champions – Identify and empower champions, allow them to act as mentors to others in their organization and across the company. Fauscette aptly points out that “Having people who visibly exhibit the behavior you desire is very powerful and will help people learn the new patterns of behavior.”
  • Establish the New Tools as Information Centers – “Use the new social tools/ enterprise social network (ESN) to provide the only source for critical company information so that employees will have to use them, go to them regularly.” Use these tools to create an atmosphere where employees feel left out if they don’t participate.
  • Provide Employee Education – Another seemingly obvious suggestion, but it’s an important one. Learning a new tool can be intimidating, so make sure you provide some times where employees can be brought up to speed and educated. It will also provide a way to chance to let your champions shine in explaining how to use the tool as well as what they will get out of using it.
  • Integrate with Existing Enterprise Systems – “Embedding collaboration inside employees daily workflow is a very powerful way to demonstrate value for the employee and is a best practice for building a collaborative infrastructure”, writes Fauscette. It goes back the previous point of making these new tools an information center.

Collaboration has been one of the largest themes we’ve seen this year. In fact, according to a recent CIO Magazine piece, in the first half of 2012 collaboration software along with CRM virtualization software have shown the strongest grown in the software industry. Software alone won’t guarantee the results most businesses are looking for, couple it with the tips outlined above to really help you shift your corporate culture and truly become a more collaborative organization.