Saturday, 2 June 2012

Collaboration zeitgeist

Collaboration feels like one of those zeitgeist topics.  I have been sense-making on this topic for a few months now.  Here are a few of the things that have been interesting me.

Two comments to start with. 

First, collaboration isn't something that can be converted or reified as if it is something concrete.  It is a complex responsive process in which participants actively engage with each other through conversation.  The conversation can be face-to-face or in print or online; it can therefore be synchronous or a-synchronous.  The conversations are emergent and self-organising and, to be successful, power needs to be shared.  

Second, collaboration has a sense of the 'new black' about it; it's not a new idea because, as humans, we have always collaborated by learning from each other.  However, the web is the engine of change; it is connecting people and amplyfying ideas at massive scale. 

The collaboration pyramid

I like Oscar Berg's collaboration pyramid because of the way it draws attention to the hidden value creating layers in organisations.  Therefore, rather than treating collaboration as something else to be done, perhaps the first step is just to recognise what's already happening.

Nodes and Networks

Harold Jarche blogs regularly on networked working and I'd recommend this piece 'It's all about networks'.  Things that stand out for me are that collaborative working will require a break from traditional organisational thinking; from having a position in a hierarchy to a node in a network.  The collaborative enterprise will require porous communities of people operating in looser hierarchies and stronger networks.  For example, the multinational food company Danone has created a 'Neworking Attitude' programme to shift a culture of localised, hierarchical decision making to one of cross-function/country collaboration.

Collaborating with customers

Extending the nodes and networks idea can also include collaboration with customers. Managers at the toymaker Lego saw that not everything needed to be developed internally and it draws on the interests of its loyal fan base to develop ideas for products.  

Chief Collaboration Officer?

Should there be a formal organisational response to collaboration?  There have been a number of articles and blogs about this over the past few months about the role of a Chief Collaboration Officer.

Can one person or function be responsible for collaboration?  If there is a case for creating such a role it is because organisations are seeing the opportunities that  greater connectedness, enabled by the web,is unleashing and that this then requires attention on a collaboration strategy and investment in relevant systems and tools.  And is this a new role or an extension of say the CEO, CIO or CLO?

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