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The Collaboration Police September 5, 2007

Posted by Jeff in collaboration, corporate.
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In these matters the only certainty is that nothing is certain – Pliny the Elder

One of the things that I really love about web 2.0 is the lack of constraints in the tools – you don’t need to change your style to fit the tooling… it’s the other way around. *Note that I am talking about categories of collaborative tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) here rather than specific products. For example, if I want to share meeting minutes with a wide, geographically dispersed team I could use a blog, a wiki, or even some shared document space such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets. The point is, the choice is mine – the content producer.

Unfortunately, this kind of approach becomes much more difficult in the corporate world because there is usually a department, team, etc. that “owns” different aspects of the day-to-day business (i.e. a document management group, an intranet team, etc). These groups like to define “standards” and “best-practices” for their area of responsibility. So on the one side we have tools and technologies that are most effective when driven by user needs and emergent relationships. And on the other side we have, for lack of a better description, the “Collaboration Police” (the modern cousin of Peopleware‘s “Furniture Police” – maybe more closely aligned with the Virtual Furniture Police). It’s not that there is no value in some internal guidance on Enterprise 2.0 tools and technologies. It’s just that the role needs to be more of a “champion” than an enforcer.

Just as traditional Waterfall methodologies in software development are now generally seen as too restrictive and are being replaced with Agile methodologies – the Collaboration Police need to stop the analysis paralysis and learn to embrace change.

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Finding Collaborators June 19, 2007

Posted by Jeff in collaboration, corporate.
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Great post on Collaborage on getting traction on Enterprise 2.0 by working with the right people. I couldn’t agree more – although I must admit that in my own (albeit limited) experience, finding the people isn’t necessarily the hardest part. Getting them focused on a specific, common goal takes a lot of hard work. Still, you have to start with the right people…

Top Down vs. Bottom Up June 4, 2007

Posted by Jeff in collaboration, corporate.
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A couple of recent comments on this blog got me to thinking a bit more about the role of corporate culture in the success of Enterprise 2.0 adoption. While I do recognize that the culture of an organization can be influenced by the leadership team at the top of the organization, in my experience working in very large organizations (i.e. thousands of employees) the scope of this influence is determined by a couple of key factors:

  1. The overall size of the organization. In a large organization, there are often many layers of management between the corporate leadership team, and the employees “down in the trenches”. All it takes is a couple of (intentional or unintentional) dams along the management stream for the trickle-down effect to be cut off.
  2. The stability of the leadership structure. It is very common in large organizations for senior executives to change roles/positions within the company, which means that they will have their own priorities, biases and experiences which they use to lead.

These are a couple of reasons why I am still not convinced that it is a good idea to rely on senior executives to lead the build-up of a collaborative culture within an organization. Even if the intentions are good, it takes a lot of planets to align in order get some significant results. On the other hand, for the eager and impatient employee, the alternative is to bite the bullet and take on some more responsibility – which likely means trying to introduce the Enterprise 2.0 ideas to the workplace from the bottom up. Don’t get me wrong, executive support is very important for fostering a collaborative culture – but if you are waiting for your boss to initiate the conversation, then you may be in for a long wait.

Definitely Fancier than a Whiteboard June 2, 2007

Posted by Jeff in collaboration.
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Only a couple weeks after I posted an entry where I mentioned how a colleague of mine had thought that a community whiteboard would be a useful way for teams to collaborate, Scott Hanselman has a really interesting post on his blog that describes how some of his colleagues at Corrilian Software collaborate by putting “mini-posters” up on the walls around the office – and encouraging people to scribble all over them with updates, comments and corrections. There is definitely some extra overhead for the individual(s) maintaining the mini-posters over time, but I think that it’s a great idea. Another thing to add to my collaboration to-do list <sigh>.

Workspace Collaboration: A New Hope May 25, 2007

Posted by Jeff in collaboration, corporate.
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I work at a large company and not a day goes by when I don’t think that there has to be a better way (or in some cases, just *some* way) to efficiently share information between a large group of people spread across different teams and different time zones.

One of the things that I find surprisingly difficult is explaining how to improve corporate collaboration to other people. I never really considered myself to be on the cutting edge of the web and software development. I mean, seriously, I just started my first blog in late 2006! (At least 50 million blogs behind being considered an early adopter.) But I find that I am often met with blank stares when I mention Web 2.0 to my co-workers – never mind talking about some of the defining technologies and tools that people are using everyday on the Web. I believe (hope) that this is primarily because a large, corporate IT environment has a tendency to be so conservative that it prevents it’s own people from benefiting from these new advances that are ubiquitous in the “outside” world. It’s not that people don’t want to know about these things – but there is rarely any incentive for them to try. In fact, not only is it often difficult to introduce these new ideas and technologies, but even simply using them can be seen as lazy and wasteful in such a conservative environment.

The good news is that even though I don’t consider myself an overly optimistic person by nature, I truly believe that there is a real opportunity with social computing and Enterprise 2.0 to move some pretty big mountains and change some of the underlying culture in large organizations.

On the other hand I am not optimistic enough to think that it will be quick or easy.

What about a whiteboard? May 17, 2007

Posted by Jeff in blog, collaboration.
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I recently was discussing collaboration strategies within our department with a colleague of mine, when he made an interesting point. To paraphrase: “You know what will happen when we start talking about collaboration? There will be a 6 month corporate initiative to implement some over-engineered tools that are already obsolete. You know what I would really like to see? A big, whiteboard setup right at the entrance where people could just write down what is going on and what issues they are facing…”

I just kind of laughed and nodded politely, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense on some basic level. To me, the underlying issue that he was getting at was a need to change the fundamental way that people in the office think about sharing information. The tools are only the enablers for people willing to use them. That’s why I think that the success of collaboration in Enterprise 2.0 has to be primarily driven from the bottom-up.

I guess that is part of the reason I am writing here: this blog is my own whiteboard. Feel free to write on it too.