The Value of Collaboration is Changed Work, Not Answers

Read the literature on enterprise social networking, chat applications and collaboration and you could easily fall into believing that all that matters for a vibrant and valuable community is generating good answers to employee questions. The value of collaboration is not in answers. The value of collaboration is in changing the way work gets done.

Answers to questions are an early signal of the maturity of a network. Suddenly, it feels like the organisation has a Genius Bar of its own. Once people start to share their expertise, their knowledge and their ideas you have the platform for further development of the way your organisation works. However, many people focus on these answers as the point of collaboration.  They become diverted by the need for more participation in answering questions and generating faster or more accurate answers. Some of the paths to achieve a better answer can have negative consequences to the further maturity of the network.  

Placing the pressure of social support on a few champions alone can threaten the participation of a group critical to the success of the entire community. Badgering leaders to answer questions without any personal rationale leaves them seeing enterprise social as just another inbox. Gamification, badges and other recognition will increase participation but can also make participation, less purposeful, less flexible and more a numbers game. 

The appeal of many of the new chat applications is that for a small engaged teams, such as a development team, project team or consulting team, they can provide a ready access to answers and a forum for sharing. However, a dynamic of answering can lead to the community descending into a ‘groundhog day’ experience of the same questions asked repeatedly. When people expect quick answers why search the community to see if your question has been asked before.

Solving work problems and innovating in an work community is about more than answers. Faster answers is an example of reducing the cost of knowledge work in your organisation.  The greater value creation opportunity comes from step changes in products, processes and ways of working generated by employee interactions in your enterprise social network.  This value creation impacts your entire organisation, not just its knowledge workers.

The bigger opportunity is to bring people together, to share their insights, to address problems and to create new ways of working. Answers play a dominant role in only the first two stages of that problem. The latter two stages require people to give and take, to debate, to test and to make business decisions to see new opportunities, change products, processes and reallocate resources. The best outcomes from the Solve and Innovate phase are outcomes of the group dynamic, not an individual contributor’s answer. This generative process is far harder to gamify because small infrequent contributions can play a critical role in moving a group forward, for example making available access to a critical resource.  It is in this process that we move beyond Sharing Out Loud to genuinely purposeful Working Out Loud.

Moving the maturity of collaboration in your organisation beyond just answers is more than a technology or incentive challenge.  Creating real collaboration in work depends on having a strong value case for the organisation and the individual. It also requires the engagement of wider organisations systems to support the changes in work. Lastly, community management can play a critical role in fostering the development of work communities and the wider organisation transformation.

If you would like to discuss how Simon Terry and the Value Maturity Model can help your organisation to get greater value from collaboration on any platform, please get in touch through TwitterLinkedin or

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