The emergence of social media technology, the globalization of talent/operations coupled to the almost universal desire for innovation is transforming the business landscape and is increasing the demand for a collaborative culture within organizations of all sizes.
Businesses are realizing that with the onset of new social collaboration technologies, that staff from entry-level upwards, from any timezone, or location in the world are able to generate ideas that will benefit the company.
Consumers are increasingly being brought into the game too; take the example of Proctor and Gamble who allow consumers to submit and discuss new product ideas through their innovation portal Connect + Develop or Starbucks who operate a similarly collaborative crowd sourcing approach to idea generation via mystarbucksidea.com
Collaboration is now increasingly being seen as the engine of innovation and will be the key differentiator at the start of this new millennium, making now the opportune time for companies to begin breaking out of their silos and to start embracing new methods of collaboration. I have provided some tips and guidance on how to do this below.
Smash up the Office! (and Create a More Collaborative Workspace…)
This is not what you think.
I am not advocating any form of violence or destruction in the workplace.
What I mean is the very physical structure of your office may be stifling collaboration and you may need to dismantle walls, up root furniture to help people out of their silos and get them networking together.
Take the example of Cisco who designed a Connected Work-Place that would encourage collaboration. They included features like: easily moveable furniture to make collaboration easier, interactive white boards, mobile video conferencing units, and plenty of space for both planned and spontaneous meetings, (have you ever found you have a burning idea to discuss with a colleague but every meeting room was taken!?).
I realize you may not have the budgets of Cisco, but many of their solutions require only modest expenditure and maybe a small dose of ‘outside of the box’ thinking.
Introduce Social Collaboration Technology
Social media technologies are a great way to encourage staff from different departments, time zones and locations to collaborate well. 3M knew this and built their own enterprise social network to support collaboration; it was a kind of ‘LinkedIn for Scientists‘.
We realize most of you will not have the budgets to design your own collaboration system like 3M did and fortunately there are plenty of off-the-shelf systems that offer enterprise social-networking functionality.
One good example of this is Yammer. It works like Facebook and Twitter in that it allows its users to collaborate socially, but is designed specifically for business collaboration. It also has a workspace area with similar functionality to Huddle and Drop box. You can create external networks to bring consumers, customers etc.. into the game. It has mobile access and integrates well with other technologies like Sharepoint, SAP and Salesforce.
Another market leading private social network designed specifically to support global collaboration in businesses is SalesForce’s Chatter. It has similarly functionality to Yammer and also has some workflow approvals functionality built in where processes such as sales discounts, hiring decisions and vacation requests can be approved from within the system.
There are of course, plenty of other social collaboration systems in the marketplace!
Build Collaboration into Your Performance Evaluation System
I suggest that you follow the approaches of some of the most innovative companies in the world. Consider 3M, where collaboration is built into the performance management system, employees are both evaluated and rewarded for, ‘not just developing an innovative technology, process, or idea but spreading it’. This is a tried and tested apprach to encouraging collaboration.
Engender Curiosity – which encourages employees to seek out information from others
Google are one of the pioneers of this and they do this with their 20% time initiative where engineers can spend one day a week ‘working on projects that aren’t necessarily in their job descriptions. This can be to develop something new or to ‘fix something that is broken’. In the process of creating their fix or innovation Google 20% time developers will have to be curious, and leave their silos to ask questions and collaborate with others.
I realize that not all businesses have the resources to offer such curiosity based collaboration, but maybe you need only go in up to your ankles like Atlassian did with their Fedex days. They offered employees, 1 day a year to propose, thrash out (talk to other colleagues) and develop a new idea all in a day.