Tuesday 9 February 2010

Collaboration: Approach, Structure and Technology

As mentioned earlier in this blog, the realization of expected benefits from collaboration requires a clear collaborative strategy, and hands-on collaboration tactics. Lack of either (or a clear connection between the two) dramatically reduces the success rate.

In essence, w
hat is needed is a connected and coherent, multi-level, multi-perspective approach that closes the gap between strategy and tactics and operationalizes collaborative strategies based on business objectives.

Excelling at collaboration is a complex undertaking that requires a broad approach. But the broad approach is not enough. The process of staging this (preferably broad) approach is also important, doing things in the appropriate sequence.

Therefore - begin with the end in mind – by establishing a set of good objectives that take into consideration the particular context of your company.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” is an appropriate maxim in this context. Giving the process some attention is just good risk management.

Second - all too often solutions are prescribed without a proper understanding of the underlying problems. This is like playing ”Jeopardy” – you know the answer, and then go looking for problems that fit the solution. Needless to say, it should be the other way around, but reversing this common error does not happen by itself – this is largely due to the inherent structural imbalance (asymmetry) in power between a well-organized, streamlined supply side and a weak demand side. The supply side keeps delivering packaged solutions similar to previous projects, because this standardization minimizes their risk and maximizes their profits. This is their core business; they make a living doing this. Compared to the supply side, the demand side is less streamlined, and many representatives find themselves in unfamiliar territory, as being involved in such projects deviate much from their normal day to day activities. Systematically strengthening the user side and the user project could help addressing some of these problems.

A note on the role of technology
: Technology alone should be viewed as a commodity – it can be purchased by your competitors, and offers little in terms of competitiveness in its own right. To use a sports metaphor – the sole act of buying a new collaboration technology gives you no more competitive edge than buying a new pair of boxing gloves if you are to fight Mike Tyson. Yes – technology may be necessary, but there is more to it. Technology alone rarely does the trick.

However, as a part of broader, contextualized concepts that also include processes, organization, competence and other elements, technology can, in combination with other elements, be a very powerful differentiator.

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