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Managing the Mess

One of the many unforeseen problems with collaboration is that it’s messy. Having to convince a diverse group to work together towards a common goal is never easy, especially if it requires people who aren’t familiar with each other. How can we manage the mess, gain adoption and make collaboration work?

While you’re bound to come across tons of posts touting the benefits of adopting a new tool, Dennis McDonald takes a different approach. In his blog post, Collaboration Can Be Messy he attempts to tackle the difficult problem of managing collaboration. McDonald acknowledges that “collaboration can be helped by technology”. However, it’s important to note that technology alone will not serve as a “magic bullet” for getting teams to successfully collaborate.

“One problem with a technology-centric collaboration approach is that successful collaboration also involves luck and serendipity.” This is where a lot of corporations fall flat. The predominate view is one where once the technology is in place, employees will naturally migrate over and use it. As I’ve tried to point out, this rarely happens. Having internal champions to push initiatives forward as well as serve as educators is an essential element for success. Additionally, McDonald points out that “it’s not always clear how much relative emphasis management should place on improving collaboration processes versus managing to improve the hopes for outcomes of those collaboration processes.”

Another problem with rolling out collaboration initiatives revolve around the way in which collaborative technologies are managed verses how the business operates. For example in most corporations, IT is the go-to department for technology management, support and rollout. But as McDondald points out, with something as far-reaching as collaboration software “who is responsible for changing and managing the business processes that the new technology is intended to support?” Often times determining who is in charge of spearheading such a large change is difficult.

This brings us full-circle. Collaboration is messy. Selecting and making new collaborative tools available is easy, but as McDonald states “Helping people learn how to use it effectively in situations where knowledge management and information sharing are based on habits learned over many years is hard.” I agree, the real difficulty isn’t offering up a new tool, it’s educating and training individuals on using it and gaining internal adoption. McDonald offers up some guidance, stating “Part of the solution is realizing that the IT department cannot go it alone…the business must be involved and lead the charge.” You need other internal champions to help show employees that new tools aren’t a burden. In an era where everyone has too much to do and not enough time, having to parse out time to learn yet another tool is pretty unappealing. Having internal champions help bridge the gap through education and showing off first-hand the benefits of collaborating.

What’s different about managing collaboration compared to other initiatives is that it can be messy. It’s not always possible to predict the outcome of how new technologies will be used, which is not necessarily bad. “If an organization is so risk averse that it is unwilling to experiment with new ideas and ways of working, it’s probably doomed to be bypassed by younger, leaner, and more agile competitors anyway.” Regardless this isn’t a solo operation, management needs to be involved in managing the transition to new work habits and that may very well involve using the new tools in the process.

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