The illusion of collaboration within corporations is often that by putting a collaboration system in place the results will be an enhanced collaboration. But it does not work most of the time, even with the best tools in place. Surprising? Not really. The most important part of any collaboration system is not the software but the “social” software, i.e. this hard to define set of attitudes and behaviors that lead individuals to get closer to each other and to work together.
We found in our practice with corporation putting in place collaboration systems that several factors of this social software can be outlined. Two examples.
The first one is obvious: colleagues are colleagues, not friends. Contrary to friends, colleagues are not chosen, they may not like each other and they are asked to do things together, but the “what’s in for me” is seldom obvious.
The second is more subtle but as important. While the same kind of tool can be used for internal and external collaboration ecosystems, the reasons for joining and the focus of work make the two models actually quite opposite.
The external collaboration, be it in communities, on forums, etc. relies mostly on two dimensions: individuals think the collaboration can develop or help them and possibly others; individuals are at the origin of the working groups thus created, willingly joining and debating. The ‘What’s in for me’ is a social and personal development. When individuals contribute on TripAdvisor or Wikipedia they know they are building a constantly improved social construct.
The internal collaboration on the contrary is generally required or suggested by the hierarchy, individuals are assigned because of their role within the organization, and the purpose of the created community is to improve a process or any element of an activity. A core example is a Community of Practice. The “what’s in for me” is less obvious than the “what’s in for the company”
The implied difference in culture is huge. Closing the gap will not be a question of “motivation” or of “collaborative spirit” but more prosaically a question of rewards and recognition. People who develop collaborative skills in the outside world will apply them internally IF there is something for them to win. Employers implementing collaborative models will have to evaluate the possible rewards. They differ by company but can be in terms of prestige, internal expertise recognition, psychological rewards, etc. as well as in terms of participation to the benefits of the output, be they in cash, in career advancement, or in free time for one’s personal interests.