Define your collaborative model and break out of the digital silo

author Brett Dixon, February 23, 2017

Ask any worker where they collaborate online and the chances are they’ll name their specialised system whether that’s an ESN or a customer service platform. Arguably, the greatest benefit of the digital workplace is the freedom and flexibility to collaborate across silos, sharing information and insights using social intranet software. This democratisation of knowledge and the formation of communities of practice can drive collaborative best practice across your digital workplace.

The four levels of collaboration

Collaborative interactions can range from the simple and intuitive to the complex. If the desired outcome from any level of communication is simple and straightforward, then a phone call, email or chat will be enough of a collaborative effort to bring about the outcome. These simple communications are ad hoc, without the need for tools or workflow systems.

If a process is repetitive and already embedded in the culture of an organisation, then it makes sense to build it into a workflow system. One example in the digital workplace is interaction with HR, where forms and checklists can become automated to simplify workflows and enable closer collaboration.

While the desired outcomes may be understood and known, there may still be exceptions that require bespoke solutions. In which case, a systematic approach becomes more complex and larger teams may need to collaborate on the exceptions that require a greater level of judgement and clarity. It may be possible to hand off 80% of the task to junior members of the workforce, or even automate entirely, while the remaining 20% will require more experienced staff using more complex tools involving data manipulation.

If the situation is both complex and entirely new, then it may require deeper levels of collaboration, creative problem solving and innovative thinking to tackle the issue. Online discussions and group knowledge management can be useful tools in a rich collaboration environment.

The four models of collaboration culture

Drilling deeper behind these 4 models of collaboration we can uncover a picture of the kind of collaborative culture that exists in an organisation’s digital workplace. Cameron and Quinn have developed a competing values framework, defining the sharing-control dimension as attitudes to the way information is shared and the integration/inward-differentiation/outward axis relating to the unification of information within a digital workplace versus the desire to seek information from outside the organisation.

Using this approach is valuable in mapping the kinds of tools that will encourage collaboration in your culture. If you’re an innovation culture that shares and cultivates new learning and information, then you’ll prefer to use blogging, ESN and ideation tools.

A more social relationship culture, where much is shared and little is recorded, will embrace social sharing, ESN and user-generated content in a way that an information-control culture with a strong emphasis on rules, procedures and compliance may not. This type of collaborative culture prefers tools like user-generated wikis and strong document management.

If you identify your culture as results based – for example, you’re a sales or marketing organisation with a strong emphasis on differentiation – your company may respond to CRM software, real-time industry news feeds, and ‘how-tos’.

Huddles, hives and hangouts

To collaborate effectively with the right suite of tools, it makes sense to identify the dominant shared values and norms so that expectations of shared working practice in the digital workplace are clear and employees know what is acceptable behaviour. Identify potential points of conflict and friction and put in place facilitation and moderation that smooths collaboration across cultures and silos. One of the most elegant ways to create frictionless collaboration in the digital workplace is supporting teams to find the right digital workspace.

  • The huddle involves a small team invested in a common task. Huddles need open communication channels and a shared space which could be as simple as a file sharing service or the use of messaging software to encourage discussion.
  • The real world equivalent of the hive is the open plan office where the workforce is engaged in their own projects whilst part of and exposed to the buzz of the general workflow. Social network software and activity feeds can provide an elegant solution to hive collaboration in the digital workplace.
  • The hangout is the social space that employees create to share collaborative social challenges like the Mannequin challenge. Your workforce will almost certainly create a hangout outside the digital workplace using Facebook or WhatsApp, so embrace the commodification of the digital workplace by incorporating software solutions that capture the best of consumer IT.

Supporting the digital equivalent of real world work modes takes discipline from employees and the right social intranet software including rich communication and digital communities of practice to allow close collaboration across silos and cultures towards common business goals. By identifying your collaborative culture and the appropriate digital workspaces and tools, your organisation can promote best digital practice and drive engagement and collaboration across your social intranet.