Monday, April 6, 2009

If collaboration is bad for you, make it better

An interesting article by Morten T. Hansen underlines the need to carefully analyse whether to launch a collaboration project or not. While he underlines important aspects of successful collaboration, in my opinion, he does not delve long enough in how to build the perfect conditions for successful collaboration within an organization. And what collaboration, exactly ?

I am always pleased to see people taking the time to think about how to make collaboration successful and stressing how difficult this can be. The whole E2.0 movement sometimes seems to forget that collaboration in corporations did not start with the arrival of E2.0 technologies, and that companies have developed skills and capabilities for improved collaboration.

This is, to my mind, why the article by Hansen comes at the right moment. He gives precise examples on why collaboration could fail (overestimating financial results of collaboration, ignoring opportunity costs or underestimating collaboration costs), and therefore contributes to a necessary reassesement of collaboration projects.

Still, I found two aspects of his article that would deserve further research:
  • First, when analyzing the projected return of the collaboration project, Hansen seems to concentrate on the cash-flow it can generate;
  • Second, when analyzing collaboration costs, he does not seem to take into account the potential for improved collaboration due to E2.0 technologies.
E2.0 technologies, if conveniently deployed (meaning with strong change management support on new usage and skill development), should greatly diminish collaboration costs. This is something I have seen at most of my clients.

I find even more important to go further into the analysis of the projected return of collaboration, depending on the depth of the collaboration project. Obviously, making two different units or teams collaborate at a given point on a given project generates costs and the returns can only be in terms of cash generated.

But shouldn't Hansen go deeper in analyzing the projected returns of collaboration projects that actually change the DNA of the organization ? Because, in my opinion, when he points that "the collaboration imperative is a hallmark of today's business environment", it is not collaboration as usual.

The hallmark of today's business environment is the development of collaboration as an alternative to hierarchy for a precise number of business situations. We are not speaking about making BUs or teams learn to collaborate transversally (even though this is important). We are speaking about giving the organization a new organization dimension, based of people who are able to identify each other and organize to solve a business problem.

It is about governing and giving responsibility for transversal collaboration that does not need hierarchical micromanagement.

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