Collaborating with Everyone

As collaboration platforms respond to the demands of C-suite executives for new tools for digital communication, two themes have risen to the forefront of debate. Everywhere we turn at the moment we have the twin topics of:

  • 100% Adoption
  • Collaborating with Everyone

Both targets are counterproductive illusions. They aren’t as attractive or as realistic as they seem despite the many people promising miracles to eager executives.

100% Adoption as a Measure

That we are even discussing adoption shows the growing maturity of the collaboration technology market. In the early days, there was too much expectation that the tool itself would deliver magic and users would automatically interpret how and when to use the tool as they change their work.

Now that we are focused on and measuring adoption, we are confronted with the inevitable race to 100% adoption or similar goals.  We have reached the point where the goal has taken over and the logic for the goal has been lost.

Increased purposeful use of a collaboration platform is valuable. However, much that is measured in measuring adoption is not purposeful use and has little business value for the organisation or for users.  Likes on the CEO’s live video or a post that gets no engagement does not guarantee any business value.

More importantly, the purpose of all this adoption is often vague. Big adoption numbers make community managers feel great when performance measures are often uncertain.  They provide marketing for tech companies. They also stroke senior executive egos as they falsely correlate adoption to engagement. As I have repeatedly stressed, we need to move beyond adoption for its own sake to creating value for the business and in line with its strategy. A cavalcade of GIFs, likes and chatter can be the exact wasteful time suck that many executives fear. Pointless activity driven by platform features or campaigns will ultimately drive rational users away. Employees are sensible enough that they will choose to spend their time creating value for the business or their own work instead of delivering work to a meaningless metric.

Collaborating with Everyone

As a passionate advocate for working out loud, many people may assume that I would encourage collaborating with everyone. I don’t because you can’t collaborate with everyone and it is generally counterproductive.

Research has consistently shown the value of psychological safety in high value collaboration. We just aren’t safe if the network universe must be everyone. This is a key reason why I stress that working out loud is ‘Sharing work in progress with a relevant audience’ (emphasis added).

Relevance is also a key element for the ability for a collaboration opportunity to find someone who can help or learn from that message. Messages in bottles send out into large expansive networks often struggle to find relevant partners and responses without the support of community manager and other champions to guide them to relevant parties. Smaller groups closer to a team or a clan scale are much more useful launching pads. People can assume that a message sent to everyone is not relevant to them. It gets less attention in the fast flow of broadcast communication.

Another key reason is that much of the focus on ‘collaborating with everyone’ is really about communication, not collaboration.  There are real human differences between chatting, communicating messages, having a conversation and getting down to the task of working together. If you are focused on broadcast communications then you can target everyone but expect to get the usual low engagement that you see on any other broadcast communication channel. Forcing broadcast messages into the streams of people busy doing work is not a solution. It is counterproductive because it either disrupts the flow of employee’s work, they miss the messages or they disengage from the communication channel. Worse establishing that broadcast is the leaderships’ preferred mode of engagement encourages others to model that behaviour too. Collaboration is far more effective when people check egos and listen.

If the digital era has taught us anything, it should be that perfection is overrated and learning and adaptation is a far better approach to work. We don’t need 100% adoption of a tool. We need the adoption of the collaborative work that will help realise our business goals. We don’t need collaboration with everyone. We need collaboration of the specific groups and teams that will realise our desired forms of new business value. Collaborative teams learn by doing and learn from the role modelling of others. If the strategy is not clear now, then the work of the community will be to learn and adapt their way to fulfilling these objectives.


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