Four Ways Businesses are Failing at Collaboration

imageI’m frustrated by a few conversations within the community around end user adoption. Honestly, most technologists just don’t get it — they fail to understand that the primary failures of their collaboration initiatives have little to do with the technology. The fault is within their business strategies, or lack thereof.

Technology selection is often the easiest part of collaboration. I often tell audiences that there are a finite number of features and configuration options to any technology. Your chosen technology platform either does what your business needs or it does not. You can keep buying tools and hiring experts to expand, but what many organization find themselves building is a technological Winchester Mystery House. Instead, they need to focus on the business issues surrounding the technology to align their social and collaborative activities with their business objectives.

That is not to say that the technology is perfect — far from it, many of the most sought-after collaborative tools are on the bleeding edge, with most companies being pushed by their eager and often social-savvy end users to roll out the latest, greatest solutions without time for proper testing and platform maturity. But the real issues that businesses are facing with their collaboration platforms has more to do — in my experience — with 4 underlying areas of focus. Collaboration fails when:

  1. Your planning does not begin and end with the End User experience.
    How do organizations miss this one? Do they think their end user are “too busy” to help design the system that they are expected to embrace? The purpose of your collaboration platform is to enable end users to work more efficiently and effectively with each other, or individually, and yet most deployments fail to take into account their key end user use cases — instead building a carbon copy (but with all new features) of their old, tired corporate intranet. The key to getting users to adopt your platform is to lower the barriers to collaboration. The more rules you put in place, the less likely employees are to use the platform. You need to consider compliance and security issues, for sure — but you should design your system with the end user in mind, working closely with your "power users" to identify the system must-haves, and to test key end user scenarios. The more you involved your end users, the more likely they are to accept the end result.
  2. You do not proactively manage governance.
    The more difficult it is to manage a platform, the less likely your leadership team will support the expansion of the platform. Poor governance planning works against end user adoption in that way: because a set of new features might be complicated, and security and metrics unclear, administrators may be loath to support it, and decide not to enable them…..which then impacts end user adoption, because users are not getting the features they want and need. Be clear on what you need to measure (data retention, permissions, usage patterns), how these metrics are captured, and the management roles and responsibilities at each level (leadership, administrators, team leads, etc). Your initial governance model doesn’t need to be perfect, but include a solid change management process, and your model will evolve and improve as you learn from the system activity.
  3. Your strategy, priorities, and change management processes lack transparency.
    One of the key benefits of a collaborative platform is in helping teams connect and share content and activities where before there had been data and work stream silos. How you manage your collaboration platform — from engineering activities, to risk management and compliance audits, to the overall change management and IT ticket prioritization — is essential to your ongoing success. People don’t like to be left in the dark. If an end user finds a functional limitation in the platform and in encouraged to document the issue and submit a ticket, make sure that there is visibility into where that ticket goes, how it is being handled and prioritized, and when it has been closed. Share the metrics of the platform, from the most and least used sites to the largest storage usage and most popular features. Share what is happening within the platform so that people have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and share their feedback and experiences. What a crazy idea — use your collaboration platform to improve the quality and performance of your collaboration platform!
  4. Your solutions do not align with your business needs.
    At the end of the day, you did not invest all of your time and money and people resources into your platform so that people could share cooking recipes, albeit in a very collaborative manor (unless, of course, your business is around cooking). The tools you deploy should enable you to improve upon key business processes. Your platform should enable quicker, more detailed collaboration between co-workers, partners, and customers, allowing you to do more, and do it better and more accurately. This also goes back to end user adoption — the better and more clearly you can align how your platform works to how your business works, the happier your employees will be. Good collaboration streamlines business, through things like workflow and process automation, forms and wizards to walk you step-by-step through data entry, and by putting social activities at the center of everything you do so that your content has better context, and is more searchable, more findable.

Any seasoned IT project manager or technologist knows that there are many other nuanced issues, depending on the tools selected, the number of connection points made to internal and external data sources and transactional systems, and the culture and technical capability of the organization. All of these things can add complexity to an already complex problem. But your collaboration platform is the hub of how your information workers connect, share, and get work done. Planning is the key to success, and having a strategic for each of the above issues will help ensure your collaboration environment is solid, meets and beats your end user requirements, and supports your growing needs.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.