Thursday 14 May 2009

Collaboration: The Big Paradox

Most companies tend to address collaboration in a fragmented, ad hoc manner, despite the fact that 70-80 percent of managers' and knowledge professionals' time is spent on collaborative activities. The enigma is that these activities are, at large, not managed, led and supported the way companies manage, lead and support other activities.

If employees represent 80 percent of the cost of a knowledge-intensive organization and these employees spend 70-80 percent on different types of collaborative activities, this should be the focus of attention for business executives. Significant productivity improvements can be realized by improving how businesses collaborate, through combining strategic and tactical perspectives on collaboration.

Building a competitive advantage based on collaboration basically involves identifying answers to these three questions:

  1. Why should a company improve the way it collaborates? Answering this question involves identifying an identification of business benefits, opportunities, drivers, bottlenecks and problems.
  2. What should a company do to improve the way it collaborates? What elements are required to develop a set of new work practices? How can the collaborative infrastructures be aligned with strategic business objectives and the desired work practices to improve collaborative performance?
  3. How should a company support and manage collaboration? What specific competencies and support functions must be in place to secure the realisation of expected benefits?

Collaboration should be managed and led on both a strategic and at a tactical level, where tactical collaboration management principles are derived from and consistent with top level collaboration strategies. Addressing one without addressing the other, is unlikely to produce successful results.

Businesses can achieve significant productivity improvements from a systematic, structured investment in management principles, tools and methods supporting collaboration. The realisation of expected benefits require a clear collaborative strategy, and hands-on collaboration tactics. Lack of either (or a clear connection between the two) dramatically reduces the success rate. What is needed is a connected and coherent, multi-level, multi-perspective approach that closes the gap between strategy and tactics and operationalises collaborative strategies based on business objectives.

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