Does improving collaboration depend on culture change?

(updated with a link to Michael’s post that works!)

collaboration Michael argues that we hide behind the need for culture change on many collaboration projects, his key point is illustrated by this example:

if a team can run a project in email then they can run one in a collaboration tool. They don’t need a change in “culture” to make the transition, they need a change in “work practice”.

Whilst it’s difficult to disagree with the point that to switch from using email to using a collaborative workspace space requires a change in working practice, I don’t agree that it doesn’t sometimes also require a change in culture.  To cite a few examples of my own: 

  1. creating a shared knowledge base requires people to share expertise that they might traditionally have thought of as essential to their long term employment and to reduce the visibility of their individual contribution to maximize that of the team.  Changing this attitude requires some culture change away from individual performance and “knowledge is power” and more towards “team results matter”.
  2. creating a blog that narrates your work requires significant investment of time and energy and opens up immature ideas to public scrutiny.  This requires a culture change away from “immediate results” towards “investment in the future”, “spin off innovation” and “improved quality through greater participation”.  It requires managers to encourage people to be open and take risks without fearing that this will reflect badly on them.

In my personal experience I have seen a lot of culture related issues that have stalled changes in working practice designed to improve collaboration, for example:

  1. People not being comfortable with letting other team members get access to their work in progress files,  preferring instead to only provide access to published/polished information
  2. People not being comfortable with producing weekly highlight reports because it exposes the peaks and troughs in the output as if it were peaks and troughs in their input,  ie some weeks they might not have any highlights at all, maybe only low lights but have been working very hard
  3. People being very concerned about publishing their ideas and thought processes in discussion areas because they believe that sharing incomplete work potentially damages their reputation and that the reviewers might take control of the conversation
  4. People not investing the time and energy required to submit assets to a corporate knowledge base, because the people who benefited were too far removed from the contributor and therefore there was no benefit to her

I think all of these concerns were pretty valid ones,  working through them requires the working practice change to be supported by a culture that recognize and rewards the change in working practice.  Often the cultural change that’s required isn’t immediately obvious and that in itself is a cultural issue.  A willingness to take a risk – knowing that your peers and managers are will be there to support you and not stab you in the back. 

Right now as we move to a new world of work with less job security, and a lot more external competition from free agents and BPO providers it’s not difficult for me to see why some people look for evidence of culture change BEFORE they are comfortable with working practice change.

I blogged a little about the steps I see a person going through on their journey to collaborative behavior here and the factors affecting success here.

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

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve tried to leverage collaboration tools with diverse groups large and small. I’ve tried to use them internally (wiki /self created intranet)…and externally (microsites/projects). I’ve found that very few folks, we’ll call them “corporate” folks, are even willing to understand what these tools are. I even gave them options to communicate with the group in the workspace via email (emailing to the microsite vs. clogging the inbox and receiving the resulting streams via RSS). Nope. Too complicated. “Just email it”. My response, “no can do”.

    Anyway, it seems to take culture influencers from within the organization to spread the joy and effectiveness of collaboration. Is it culture or work practice then that make this work? I’d say it’s about 50/50

    Doug Mitchell

  2. thanks for the GREAT post! Very useful…

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