Can You Create a Collaborative Organization Without Technology? |

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Can You Create a Collaborative Organization Without Technology?


Posted by on October 25, 2012

Is it possible to change behaviors or to build a collaborative organization without technology?  Think about that for a moment before you answer.

Let’s say you are working at a large organization of a hundred thousand people.  You want to become more collaborative, transparent, and empower your employee to share with each other.  Is it possible to focus on these types of behaviors (and others that come with being collaborative) without the help of technology?  It’s an interesting question in my opinion.  For example let’s say that you tell your employees you want them to be more open and transparent with each other and you want them to share information across teams and geographies.  Great, but how do you want that sharing of information to take place?  Via phone or email?  Or how about if you want to leverage the collective intelligence of employees to solve a problem or come up with an opportunity.  How would you go about doing that and trying to engage your workforce without a collaborative technology piece in place? With an email newsletter?  Clearly there is a bit of a dilemma here.

I’m a big advocate and believer in the necessity of behavior change to support collaboration.  However, it’s also crucial to be able to support and empower these behaviors and this not only comes from culture but also from the enabling technologies that allow these types of things to happen; especially within larger organizations.  I have yet to see or hear about any organization which says it’s collaborative yet doesn’t incorporate a collaboration solution into supporting that collaboration.

Think about this.  Many employees and executives at companies are still not even familiar with a Jive, Yammer, Mango Spring (which we use), or Chatter.  They have never seen these tools and therefore have no concept of what they are.  Now imagine going to these employees and telling them that you want them to become more open, transparent, communicative, and collaborative.  You will probably get a few awkward stares because ultimately the response will be something like “ok great, I’d love to, but how do you want me to do that with the other 100,000 employees that work here?”  However, when employees start to use and become familiar with these solutions then things make a bit more sense.  I’m not saying that they immediately get it and things just flourish, but it provides context for the conversation.  It’s a bit like trying to explain the capabilities and benefits of Facebook and Twitter to someone who hasn’t seen it.  You can talk about sharing, connecting, and communicating all you want but you need people to understand what you are talking about.

So, ultimately in order to build a collaborative organization you do need the technology piece to support the desired behaviors or you will fail.  When Andrew McAfee coined the term “Enterprise 2.0″ he originally referenced it as the organization’s use of web 2.0 technologies internally, with customers, or partners to solve problems.

Sure, you also need to focus on the behaviors but they aren’t isolated.  Technology and behavior change have a 1+1=3 effect and the most successful companies focus on both in parallel.  Changing behaviors is crucial to the success of any collaboration initiative but so is being able to support those behaviors and empowering them to happen.

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  • http://lincdk.wordpress.com/ Lincoln De Kalb

    Hey Jacob – Good post and I see where you coming from. Reading the article I was thinking “no no no”. But when you followed up with tech + behaviour is 1 + 1 = 3 I thought “ahh good”. Technology is only 1 (tiny?) part of the equation. Culture, to my mind, has the lion’s share of whether or not the social initiative will be successful. I posted my thoughts on this at http://lincdk.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/culture-comes-first-for-a-social-enterprise/

    I agree that technology plays a crucial part because it’s an enabler. An ineffective tool is going to stifle both the process AND the engagement / adoption. However, There are many things that any company / team can do to foster collaboration that are independent of the tool. HBR had a good post recently – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/10/how_to_collaborate_in_a_virtua.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29 that pointed out activities teams can do to foster collaboration.

    Perhaps the better way of explaining it all is that technology does play a reasonable part however the approach of “one size fits all” is the wrong approach to the social technology.

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Hi Lincoln,

      Good to hear from you. Technology is one part but it is the part that allows collaboration to scale across a large enterprise and the part that allows the support of many of the behaviors which enterprises are trying to change. One size fits all never works but I also believe that you can’t become a collaborative organization without the necessary technology support to enable behavior.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Chris

    Very interesting! Thanks for post.

    http://bestresearchpaper.com/custom_term_paper

  • http://www.TractionSoftware.com/ Greg Lloyd

    Jacob — I’d say the underlying technology is necessary but not sufficient create what you describe as a Collaborative Organization, particularly for large organizations. I believe you need to connect people using means other than 1) physical travel; 2) same-time phone / video calls or conferencing; 3) time-shifted, explicitly addressed email (or snail mail).

    Near-real time communication, the number of people potentially and actually involved in any act, and availability of an effectively unlimited shared, persistent, searchable record of discourse on everyone’s phone, tablet or desk enables uniquely scalable patterns of communication.

    The challenge is how people and organizations use these capabilities. I don’t think iall new patterns of behavior are emergent (in the sense of Aristotle’s tadpoles being generated from mud). They are evolved, improvised on the fly, and created – top down as well as bottom up. Organizations have always had their own patterns of communication, collaboration and power relationships.

    Doug Engelbart describes the relationship between changing human systems and technology as “Co-evolution”. I think that’s a good framework. Your choice of technology and its capabilities will have a big but not entirely predictable effect on the evolution of human systems and vice versa over time.

    The co-evolution of the Web’s technology (particularly global-scale search) and the social and business systems enabled by the Web is the best example I can think of. You couldn’t hope to duplicate the effects of the Web with older technology as I wrote in a tongue in cheek post on technology vs. culture vs. management:

    “Without the enabling technology of the Web, plus search engines and other affordances based on Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s innovation, the Strict Proletarian would find it difficult to fit the inhabitants of McAfee’s inner, middle and outer rings into the same room, get them to participate in the same conference call, or exhibit their “emergent” behaviors using typewriters, copy machines, faxes and email. Speed, scale and connection patterns matter and the technology that spans these barriers is neither trivial nor insignificant to the phenomena Strict Proletarians value.”

    Enterprise 2.0 Schism
    http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Blog1163
    http://traction.tractionsoftware.com/traction/permalink/Blog1163

    • http://www.thefutureorganization.com/ jacobmorgan

      Hi Greg,

      Always good to hear from you.

      Of course technology alone is not sufficient but neither is just a focus on behaviors. Both are required and both have changed and will continue to change over time.


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