March 08, 2011

Developing collaboration in Small Business

There has been a lot of talking about collaboration lately with most conversations linking to social networks and the like. Nothing wrong with that but I don’t buy the idea that collaboration is only possible with technology. This idea is driving companies to miss the point and as a result, there is a lot of them looking at high tech social solutions as a golden ticket to success or as a requirement to survival.

Even though social network tools like facebook and twitter make it really easy to collaborate, one shouldn't forget that those tools exist because of collaboration and not the other way around. So, before investing a lot of money in collaboration tools, how about investing some energy in collaboration itself?

First it helps to know what is keeping people from collaborating. Is it really a lack of tools or could it be a lack of will? If they don’t want to collaborate, buying better tools might not help much.

I want to invite you to a very simple experiment:
  • Run a survey asking how much people at your company think they help others when they collaborate and how much they have being helped because of collaboration. You might find out that some people think that collaboration is only helping others while they are not being helped at all.
  • Communicate how important collaboration is for your company and let people know that the company will provide better ways to collaborate.
  • Provide a very elementary way to collaborate; like a white board with post-its for instance. Tell people that it is the place to share problems, thoughts, suggestions, etc.
  • Allow anonymous comments but encourage identification so everybody knows who is helping with what. Doing that, everybody will know who to look for when similar problems arise or in case one wants to know more about a specific problem or suggested solution.
  • Take part of the process. Share specific problems the company is facing at the moment; like how to improve the collaboration process, for instance.
  • Show appreciation not only for the good ideas that will certainly appear but also for the fact that people are exposing themselves showing the problems they have. They need to know that “that is ok” to have problems.
  • Let people implement their good ideas and suggestions.

It is very probable that, in such a fertile environment, questions about how to avoid losing all the good ideas posted on that board will arise. That kind of question will drive to the desire of having a better collaboration potentially social tool.

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