Collaborative Working

Top Tips: The do's and don'ts on the road to collaboration

donald-mclaughlin-july-2014Donald McLaughlin is Director of Cisco’s UKI Collaboration business, and has responsibility for driving the sales and adoption of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology solutions across the UK & Ireland market. He is also Country Manager for Scotland and played a crucial role in Cisco’s involvement in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games as Official Network Infrastructure Supporter.

Donald shares his tips on implementing best practice collaboration.

The potential advantages and business benefits of collaboration, within teams, across teams and between organisations, has long been recognised, but yet it is all too often not realised effectively. Many organisations have laid down a strategic objective of creating the kind of collaboration strategy that can boost their bottom line and increase their productivity, yet many continue to face tactical barriers that have prevented them achieving this objective.

A big bang approach to introducing collaborative thinking and strategies is likely to be too much for many internally to cope with, thereby increasing the risk of resistance to change. There are in fact a number of common errors that organisations make and, fortunately, an equal number of positive actions to take as a consequence.

Here are five key tips that organisations need to consider when implementing best practice collaboration…

Do take the business with you - It’s important to start the collaborative journey with a clear destination in mind, so do work on the strategic business case before embarking on any pilot schemes. Know where you want to get to and think about how you’ll get there before setting off. Think about why you want to make the journey in the first place. What is it that’s motivating you? Don’t just do this because you think everyone else is or because someone’s told you to. 

To get that long term business case in place, you’ll need senior level management buy-in, so prepare your pitch for the board. Creating the collaborative enterprise is a business challenge that is going to help your organisation to succeed (or fail) competitively and as such there needs to be top tier business buy-in and input. You’re going to need budget and resources and these need to come from and be signed off from the top. 

Don’t make collaboration an IT issue - Just because open collaboration requires technology to make it work, don’t assign the collaboration planning to the IT department and let them get on with it. Indeed, don’t approach this as an IT project at all! 

Put strategic thinking first – involving all the departments that the pilot will impact - and technology selection second. The technology you use should be there to support and enable the strategic vision. If you put technology first the strategic plan will end up being retro-fitted around the technology’s capabilities and limitations, thereby risking the end business outcomes.

Do make the benefits real to your colleagues - This applies both to senior management, who need to be convinced of the merits before signing off on budget, and to members of the wider organisation who will find themselves facing up to a cultural change that some will inevitably find difficult.

Collaboration demands a change in behaviour. Today it’s possible, within some businesses, that there may be people from five generations – each of which will approach a collaboration exercise with different expectations and behaviours.

Don’t make an ‘if we build it, they will come’ assumption - Do explain the reasoning behind the collaborative strategy and extrapolate not only the corporate benefits that will accrue, but also the benefits to individuals. Make this personal. How will a more collaborative way of working make the life of an individual within an organisation better and more rewarding?

With that in mind, don’t perpetuate the old work life/home life mentality. Recognise that as the connected generation of employees comes into the workforce, the old dividing lines are melting away. You need to ensure that the cultural and behavioural experiences that employees are used to in their personal lives are reflected in the workplace.

Do consider your customers, partners and other stakeholders - And don’t forget the outside world. While the reinvention of your organisation as a collaborative enterprise will be an internal initiative, don’t underestimate how much of an impact it will make on your customers and partners who do business with you. Think about how the changes you are introducing will improve the customer experience, for example, or how your partners and supply-chain can work more easily with you for mutual benefit. 

Above all, don’t think short term. This is the proverbial marathon, not a sprint. There will be great successes and there will most likely be some less than successful aspects. Revisit, revise and return where appropriate. Think of the longer term vision and the ultimate destination, but don’t get locked into being inflexible in approach at the same time. Be adaptive and flexible and reap the rewards of iterative thinking. 


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