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Collaboration - Who Does it and Why?

Published on 16 July 13
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Collaboration is central to success in most enterprises, because without it there would be no way for employees to make progress on projects and take innovations from inception to market. Understanding the nature of collaboration in the modern world is important, because it will give businesses the ability to assess where they are doing things right and which areas might require attention.

An in-depth report into collaboration published by Cisco resulted in the formulation of five key findings, the examination of which can reveal the secrets to collaborative success and the pitfalls that need to be avoided. Here is a look at these findings and information on who gets involved in collaboration and why they find it to be such a powerful strategy.
The Four Pillars of Collaboration

In Cisco's report it identified a quartet of key groups into which employees are likely to fall when it comes to approaches to collaboration. The collaboration enthusiast is typically a manager at a profit-oriented private organisation who has spent between six and nine years in their current position and has come to the conclusion that collaboration is not just quite important, but actually essential to their job. This type of collaboration evangelist will not only reward those who also see the merits of operating in a collaborative environment, but will provide employees for which they have responsibility with the tools and training to foster their appreciation for collaboration.

The comfortable collaborator fits the second slot, with the same opinion on the importance of collaboration as enthusiasts, but occupying a less senior position and with five or fewer years in the job. IT and engineering staff usually fall into this category, although not every occupant will reward collaboration to the same degree.

The reluctant collaborator category consists of specialists or professionals with one or two years of experience, most of whom will have had limited engagement with collaborative tools. Conversely the collaboration laggard category is made up of those with 16 years' experience and the opinion that collaboration is a non-essential part of operations, even if it can sometimes be useful.
Collaborative Culture

With the four types of collaborator established, the report then discusses the impact of business culture within an organisation on collaboration. It was found that 90% of those who are most supportive of collaboration believe that managers and executives need to lead by example in order to fuel this type of activity.

Many businesses also achieve success by formalising the process of collaboration and tracking its effectiveness using a variety of metrics, such as the time it takes for issues to be resolved and the period of gestation that is required to bring a particular product or service to market. Placing performance-oriented expectations on employees in relation to collaboration is more likely to convince them of its worthiness, which is unsurprising when participation is incentivised by the promise of a bonus.
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Perceptions of Success

Even among the collaboration laggard category, 69% of those questioned said that collaboration is vital to the success of employees in the workplace. This rises to 89% of enthusiasts and there are a variety of tools which are used in modern companies in order to achieve this. The majority of those questioned said that the use of conferencing platforms, both email and telephone-oriented, were commonly harnessed in order to boost productivity and reduce travel costs.

Three quarters of respondents pointed to web-based collaboration, hosted in the cloud, as something which they rely upon to operate effectively. Over two thirds said that video conferencing was now commonplace in the collaborative process and 40% pointed to the use of blogs and contributions to industry-oriented online wikis as being significant.

The perceived importance of collaboration could be increasing as a result of these emerging online tools, with 75% of respondents saying that they have become more collaborative as a result in the past 24 months.
Providential Productivity

Now you know who is most attuned to collaboration, it is necessary to establish the main motivations for their enthusiasm. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Cisco report found that productivity is the most commonly cited benefit of collaboration tools, 99% of comfortable collaborators saying that they have been able to become more productive as a direct result. About the same proportion agreed with the idea that they were better equipped to innovate thanks to these tools, with nine out of ten respondents saying that there were also cost savings to be gleaned.

Questions were posed about whether certain collaborative tools are being used because of the productivity benefits or the innovative improvements they offer and in every case it was the former that got more attention than the latter. Opinions on web or data conferencing were particularly weighted towards productivity, just ahead of IM (instant messaging). Meanwhile typical project work, the improvement of the processes at the heart of an organisation and the development of new products represent the three most common use of collaborative tools.
Size Matters

Cisco analysts had initially anticipated that the size of a company would play its part in determining the popularity of collaboration, with bigger firms assumed to be more likely to have embraced modern tools than smaller counterparts.

However, this assumption was proved to be false, with businesses of all sizes and across most industries finding that collaboration was easy to achieve and a desirable aspect of modern communications. There are a number of things that a business can do in order to foster collaboration among employees and secure the various benefits that contemporary tools and platforms offer.

It is necessary to make sure that the culture of an organisation is geared towards collaboration, because this can shape the personal attitudes of employees and determine whether they become collaboration enthusiasts or laggards. Managers and executives can be influential in determining which collaborative tools are used and will also have the power to introduce employees to what they can offer.

Rewards for collaboration will help to incentivise adoption and catalyse the accrual of benefits, as well as making sure that the formal implementation of these processes is possible. Training and support will need to be provided in most cases so that the best use can be made out of collaboration tools, since people who are most likely to support collaboration and see it as essential are also those who have an understanding of what collaborative platforms offer. Cloud computing, VoIP, video conferencing, IM, email and traditional phone services can all be adopted in order to make sure that a business has access to the collaborative tools it needs to grow and succeed in a perpetually competitive marketplace.
This blog is listed under Development & Implementations and Enterprise Applications Community

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