You Can Lead A Horse

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it … collaborate.

That was my initial reaction when I read Michael Sampson’s post, Who Owns “Collaboration” in Your Firm? He describes ownership of collaboration in the following ways:

  • has the responsibility for analyzing work processes and recommending ways of improving those through collaboration technology.
  • has the responsibility for analyzing specific collaboration technologies and recommending or deciding on which ones to use.
  • has the responsibility for helping staff use new collaboration technology effectively in their work.

The reality is that while it might be tempting for the KM, IT or HR departments to start explaining to other departments how to collaborate, offering those explanations is a far cry from actually initiating meaningful collaboration.  Collaboration occurs when people are ready to collaborate — not a minute before.  For collaboration truly to take hold, you need people in each area of the firm who approach their work with a collaborative mindset.  This means people who are willing to give up some turf and even credit for good ideas in order to foster teamwork for the benefit of the enterprise generally.  Without these kinds of people, it’s very hard to achieve any meaningful collaboration — regardless of the brilliance of the collaboration plans offered by your collaboration owners or consultants.

[Photo Credit:  tibchris]

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12 thoughts on “You Can Lead A Horse

  • July 17, 2009 at 6:06 am
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    Hi Mary, thanks for your post. So … your argument is that ownership should reside in the business departments? Did I read you correctly?

    The purpose of my post is to try and understand what firms are actually doing today in this area. I don't disagree with your “reality” snapshot.

    M.

  • July 17, 2009 at 9:10 am
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    Hi Michael:

    I'm not sure I'm ready to offer an argument yet, but perhaps some initial impressions. Working from the perspective of Enterprise 2.0, I suspect that even at the level of a business department, the most you can expect from employees is coordination of work if the effort is mandated from above. True collaboration requires internal motivation and engagement at the level of the individual employee. And, before you can have true collaboration you need trust, common purpose and the tools to facilitate the joint effort. While others can advice on collaboration opportunities and methods, at the end of the day, you need at least two people trust each other sufficiently and are willing to share vision, turf, responsibility and credit for the work.

    – Mary

  • July 17, 2009 at 9:32 am
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    I've found that there are a lot of times that people 'want' to collaborate, and even go as far as setting up the process of getting a team together and a plan of action. But, without “leadership” within the collaborative effort, many times these teams tend to atrophy because there isn't someone leading the collaboration.

    I've got another modification of a cliché for you: After you get your ducks in a row, you need someone to kick the last duck in the butt to get them in the water.

  • July 17, 2009 at 10:24 am
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    Very, true, but I wonder what the role is for the collaboration champion, then. Just wait and be ready for when groups start to express an interest? I've been very impressed with how my colleagues at work have latched onto a portal that our Information Services team rolled out earlier this week. When we did the initial requirements gathering, it was hard to get people to articulate what they would find useful in the portal, but ideas are pouring forth now that they have something to interact with.

    It's a bit of a guessing game – build something proactively, and you stand a chance of being wrong. Wait until the demand is there, and you risk doing nothing.

  • July 17, 2009 at 11:08 am
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    Greg –

    You're right that leadership is a critical factor. It's of utmost
    importance if dealing with a collaborative group, and may even be helpful
    when there are only two collaborators. Sometimes the leader provides
    logistical support, but I suspect the leader's primary purpose is to keep
    the team members on schedule and focused on their joint mission. That said,
    after I chuckled over your ducks aphorism, I found myself wondering if the
    need to kick that last duck put in question that duck's readiness to be
    collaborative. If the duck isn't ready to collaborate, I suspect it won't
    — no matter how many times it's kicked.

    Thanks for the feedback — and the chuckle.

    – Mary

  • July 17, 2009 at 11:16 am
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    Wendy –

    Your concept of a collaboration champion is terrific. It definitely isn't
    a passive role. Rather, I suspect that the champion's role includes some or
    all of the following:

    – building an environment of trust (which is a prerequisite of
    collaboration)
    – publicizing the benefits of collaboration
    – finding opportunities for fruitful collaboration
    – recruiting and supporting people who are ready to collaborate
    – providing useful technology and other resources to facilitate
    collaboration

    There are undoubtedly other responsibilities, but this is enough to start
    with. In my mind, collaboration is a process and is not tool-dependent. If
    the readiness for collaboration doesn't exist, adoption of the tool will be
    slower or non-existent. (Witness the number of failed implementations of
    “collaboration software.”)

    – Mary

  • July 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm
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    It's becomes clearer every time I go through a project with a client. Collaboration doesn't come from the consultants (internal or external). It coems from the people who want to work together.

    That said, collaboration behavior is greatly helped by an organization that understands how its measures affect how people react. Change the measures to be more in line with the collaboration you want, and it can start blooming. Assuming the people want it too.

  • July 18, 2009 at 10:33 pm
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    [Discus gave up the ghost on me. It's getting in the way of commenting.]
    What I tried to say was that the organizational measures have a big impact on how willing people are to go into collaboration mode. In the end, though, the people have to be willing to go there, as you say here.

  • July 19, 2009 at 1:36 am
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    Thanks, Jack. You raise an important point — there are steps organizations
    can take to increase the likelihood of collaboration. In addition to
    aligning the measures (and incentives) with collaboration, it's wise to pay
    close attention to the people you hire. A one-man band rarely seeks out
    collaboration. The personality and motivation of the individuals involved
    really matters.

    – Mary

  • July 19, 2009 at 2:28 am
    Permalink

    It's becomes clearer every time I go through a project with a client. Collaboration doesn't come from the consultants (internal or external). It coems from the people who want to work together.

    That said, collaboration behavior is greatly helped by an organization that understands how its measures affect how people react. Change the measures to be more in line with the collaboration you want, and it can start blooming. Assuming the people want it too.

  • July 19, 2009 at 2:33 am
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    [Discus gave up the ghost on me. It's getting in the way of commenting. Duplicate comment deleted.]

  • July 19, 2009 at 5:36 am
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    Thanks, Jack. You raise an important point — there are steps organizations
    can take to increase the likelihood of collaboration. In addition to
    aligning the measures (and incentives) with collaboration, it's wise to pay
    close attention to the people you hire. A one-man band rarely seeks out
    collaboration. The personality and motivation of the individuals involved
    really matters.

    – Mary

Comments are closed.