People collaborate not technology

CollaborationAll too often when we talk about collaboration as IT folk we start by discussing all of the great new technologies that are available, or at least that’s what I did a decade ago.  Now I tend to focus on the people so it was very refreshing to read a great article this morning on Mike Gotta’s Collaborative Thinking blog entitled Collaborative Choreography & The Future Of Work one particular paragraph really resonated:

We need to raise the discussion level up from technology. Improving collaboration begins with understanding organizational dynamics around people such as their motivations, behaviors, relationships and interactivities across groups, teams, communities and networks and how such dynamics influence “work”.

My personal experience has been that a few things are really necessary for collaboration to even stand a chance:

  • The participants in the collaboration need to have the time and energy to get involved
  • The collaboration must either be well integrated into their personal knowledge management processes or need to be small incremental step
  • Everyone involved needs to know that their contribution to the collaboration will be recognised
  • The more innovative the desired outcome the less “common ground” the team should have at the beginning, ie diversity should be the order of the day.
  • The less common ground the people have at the beginning the more they need to have common ground created by the processes and tools, for example people who have worked together for years doing routine development work can probably collaborate pretty effectively using email and the phone whereas a team brought together for the first to create an innovative new product will benefit considerably from a face to face project launch and every collaborative technology going.

Mike throws down a challenge in terms of the evolving skill set that technology solution providers will need:

Comprehending what goes on at the social level within an enterprise is typically beyond the skills and competencies of most IT organization unless they employ resources that have a background in organizational development, ethnography, anthropology, psychology, sociology, epistemology, and so on. I believe that skill and competency gap will change as business leaders increasingly call upon technologists to provide them with some perspective on the role of technology, collaboration and the future of work.

In the comments Mike makes a point I make all the time,  that we need to stop thinking in an application centric way and start to think more in terms of the people who interact with many different applications.  When I am working with customers on collaboration I like to think in terms of people, places and lifecycles.

I believe rather strongly that people far too often focus on the technology when it comes to collaboration. We (technologists) also tend to look at things from the inside out – that is, from the viewpoint of the application which often represents a time slice of task and functionality. I would hope that technologists begin to understand the viewpoint of the user (outside in) and elevate their understanding of groups collectively rather than users singularily.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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