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Collaboration Isn’t Working: What We Have Here is a Chasm

This is a cmswire cross-post.

What we have ourselves here is a chasm. Collaboration isn’t breaking out all over.

Dear Colleagues:

Canyou feel it? It’s the subtle loosening of gravity’s pull as we pause atthe peak of the hype apex before we thunder down into the trough ofdisillusionment (with apologies to Gartner). Social collaboration isn’tworking very well, but must we go gently into that good night?

Some of the reasons we’re hitting the near edge of this “chasm” we’ve known and predicted from the beginning.

Thisis a paradigm shift as fundamental as any the modern workforce orcapitalism has ever seen. More significant than the PC, the internet andthe IT department combined. More significant than globalization. It’sabout retreating from command and control practices designed to make theENGINE of capitalism (and government and war) purr, to a collaborativeone which activates the full capabilities of the participants andnetworks them in a way that amplifies and accelerates action.

It’sabout changing from a daily grind of covering our individual andcollective heinies to one where we are joined in the intellectual,emotional and emergent pursuit of “better.” Of mission and service.

Ok— so that’s pretty hard, we have established but few ground rules, andit looks like we’ll wander another 10 or 20 years or so in the deserttill it’s really as true as we’d like to to be, but it does seeminevitable, and so it is. But we could speed it along with more rigorousresearch and learning. We need to stop trying to ferret out bits ofgood news and start ferreting out learning.

In other words, weneed to take our own advice about facing both good and bad news withequanimity and an authentic learning orientation.

But there’sanother angle to this and its really, really bothering me. Adoption. Allthe 68,000 vendors in the space (including my employer, OpenText) havesettled on streams and digital workspaces as the definition of socialcollaboration technology — with some allowance for variance in quality,focus and features. And now we’re all lecturing on about adoption.

There are several things that are bothering me about that.

First.The language we’re hearing about adoption is eerily similar to thelanguage we heard about every other enterprise IT paradigm that socialcollaboration is supposedly saving us from. “People don’t get it, weneed change management and training and… ”

And maybe that’s alltrue. But I know that I have scoffed at those foolish 1990’s KM peoplewho stuck to their guns and soldiered on in spite of the fact that whatthey were doing clearly wasn’t working — though the value propositionwas real, vital and clear. I have said the same thing about other ITsystems of yore.

Can we now smugly believe that we are somehowmore enlightened than others because we “get it”? If we’re so awesome,why isn’t this working? Why doesn’t everyone “get it” and why are wehaving such a hard time with adoption?

I know, I know, humanbehavior, culture and all that. But we adopted cell phones as fast asthey could make em. Just sayin’. Some of the change management stuff isreal, true and urgent, and some of it is just denial. We do not want tobelieve that maybe we aren’t right. But we aren’t.

Second.So we’ve been pushing this techno philosophy pretty hard for three orfive years, and as a Gartner analyst recently observed in a meeting,it’s no longer a new industry. And what have we learned?

We have abunch of people like me, many better than me, lecturing on what shouldbe and could be, but where’s the “what is”? I want a more rigorous bodyof learning out of the last five years. We deserve it and we need it tocontinue to be leaders in the reinvention of work. I know that there isan Amazon’s worth of books and papers out there, but it’s not enough.


Wehave some clear wins. The majority of fortune 1000 businesses are usingsome form of social media to communicate internally as well asexternally. Pockets of success are found within many companies and a feworganizations are entirely transformed. Perhaps more new organizationsare being formed after the new model rather than the old.

In theface of a mountain of evidence that something isn’t working as well aswe hoped, is “try harder” a good strategy? Are we asking the hardquestions of ourselves that could help us tell the difference? Like —whydo people like email so darn much in spite of the fact that its killingthem and makes their life more difficult in both the long and the shortterm. Are we wrong to ignore it? To insist that “email is dead, usethis instead”?

Why do teams fail to act the way we think theywill? Are we oversimplifying the notion of team? What aboutorganizations? Where is the deeper insight on the relationship betweenteams and organizations? Why isn’t a sophisticated vocabulary breakingout? Why do we not yet have 100 words for different kinds ofcollaboration and teams, as expert in it as we think Eskimos are aboutsnow? What is the difference between an intranet, a community and ateam?

I don’t want a tweetchat full of clever answers, I want clarity — and so do you.

So— yes, the paradigm shift will take a generation to turn over. But wehave not yet come close to our full measure of duty as techno-innovatorsto drive it. I would like to toss out some themes where I think we haveimportant questions to ask, things to learn. Maybe these are on theright track, maybe not, maybe its the wrong question entirely. But weneed to start asking questions and stop searching — exclusively — forcrumbs of corroborating evidence and data, and start looking at theentire body of information.

In other words, we need to step backfrom building business cases — though they are still important and valid— and put more emphasis on building our knowledge.

Editor’s Note: Deb will be speaking on this topic at Social Media Week NYC on Feb 21 at 2pm

Themes and Variations
These are some of the themes where I want to see harder questions asked. What are your questions?

1. The organization
First— the organization, the intranet and collaborative teams are NOT thesame thing. The relationship among and between these things needsserious scrutiny.

We’re beginning to see serious and rigorousstudy of public social networks in use for marketing, crisis management,
etc., but that’s a bit easier — it’s all happening out in public, so wecan see it and analyze it, thanks to the Twitter API. It’s a bit harderto go into private enterprise systems and have a look (with someobvious and disturbing exceptions).

2. Connecting the dots
Second— streams are nice. I adore Twitter. I adore our internal corporatetools that are similar to it. And here we’ve seen great adoption. We’veturned our org into a giant chat room: an extension of Instant messengeror chat for all. There’s benefit in that.

Ambient awareness has huge benefits and is one of the key elements in making remote work work. But that’s not a“wirearchy,”it does not make work visible in an actionable way, it does not cementteam bonds, it connects only a modest set of dots, it is, in short,inadequate to change how we work, though it’s a nice addition. We needto build the semantic, statistical, psycho-social and otherwise toolsthat goose the gods of serendipity.

3. Collaboration
Several years ago, I came up with a definition of collaboration that focused on three key ideas: creation, connection and compounding.
I also observed that great teams shared four basic traits — they had ashared sense of mission, they respected one another, they trusted oneanother and they were committed to achieving excellence.

We’ve since learned that very effective teamshave great communications — and very importantly — members are more orless equal in the amount they contribute. No divas, no wallflowers. Butwe’re only seeing whispers of real actionable insight into how tocontrive (or “cast”) these magically great teams. Leadership, yes,balance and matching of people — yeah, we sorta kinda know we have to dothat, but few of us know how.

How is most collaboration achieved?What is the type, volume and velocity of information that needs to beexchanged? Is this the same of variable by team? By task? By… what? Howcan teams connect to the whole and vice versa?

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