Collaboration: The Lines are Blurring – The Challenges Still Exist

From the early days of groupware, to the present day world of blogs, wikis, and social networking sites, organizations have wrestled with the challenges of connecting employees from disparate locations to share ideas, expertise and good practices. When I first started research in the area of collaboration and knowledge sharing almost 15 years ago, the ability to comment on documents, capture and share insights using multimedia, and searching on expertise profiles was still in its infancy.  Now, these capabilities have embedded themselves firmly into the day-to-day lives of individuals who chronicle their thoughts and insights on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking platforms.  Companies are now tapping into the willingness of individuals to use these new technologies to address customer service issues, mine ideas from their customers, and develop a greater sense of brand loyalty.

However, when we look at collaboration within the workplace, we still see many of the same challenges as we did in the past.  From our recent 2010 Global Chief Human Resource Office Study, where we collected insights from over 700 HR executives from around the world, we find that only 22% of companies believe that they are effective at collaboration across the organization.  Less than one-third of companies said they are regularly using collaboration and social networking tools within their organizations to support global teams, preserve critical knowledge, identify experts and share innovations.

How can organizations tap into the wealth of expertise and knowledge that exist within the workforce?  For one, they need to consider how collaborative technologies fit within the larger framework of how work is accomplished within the company.  Too often, issues such as job design are paid short shrift when collaborative technologies are introduced into the organizations.  Learning programs fail to take into consideration how to educate employees about how to use the tools and how they can be applied to create value.  Competency models do not incorporate collaboration into development plans, recognition programs and performance management schemes.

Without understanding the intersection of tools, work practices and individual motivation, organizations will continue to struggle with making the most from their collaborative efforts.  History will truly continue to repeat itself.

Research Director and North American Leader - IBM Institute for Business Value

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