Collaborating Just to Look Cool? Bad Idea

Ann All
Slide Show

Six Tips to Improve Collaboration

Six steps you can take to improve collaboration in your company.

As a mother, I know from personal experience it rarely makes sense to let your kid do something because "all the other kids" are doing it. First, it's rarely true. Second, "all the other parents" may have very different ideas about parenting than you do.


I don't let my 10-year-old play Grand Theft Auto with his 9-year-old pal down the street. If the neighbors want to give their kid unfettered access to the gaming system, that's their choice. But I've made it clear I don't think certain games are appropriate, and my son is not to play them with his friend-whether or not the friend's parents allow it.


Many organizations are feeling similar pressure to adopt collaboration tools to attract a younger generation of workers, the so-called millennials. I'll admit, I've bought into this somewhat myself. In a post titled "Employers that Reject Social Technologies Risk Losing Employees," I wrote about several companies using social technologies, at least partly to attract and retain young employees. Said Intel Australia's general manager, explaining his company's decision to use mobile technologies:

Young people expect to be connected, and will demand connectivity and inclusion when they join the workforce. Australia has close to full employment -- the ability to attract talent will depend on what you can offer people in how they connect. Mapping what people who are 18 years old today and seeing what will attract them. Will have to address entirely different mindsets from those coming into workplace. They will demand mobility.

Huh. They'll "demand" it? And what will they think about employers that give them stuff, from smartphones to social networks, simply to be a "cool" boss?


When Lindsay Lohan was still a promising actress, she made a funny movie called "Mean Girls." Amy Poehler is hysterical in a supporting role as a mom who craves approval from her daughter's friends and will seemingly do anything to get it. One of my favorite quotes: "I just want you to know, if you ever need anything, don't be shy, OK? There are NO rules in the house. I'm not like a regular mom, I'm a cool mom."


This doesn't mean I don't think companies shouldn't regularly revisit technology policies and procedures in the context of the overall work experience. Or that companies shouldn't consider using social technologies to empower employees to do their jobs better. Some of the companies featured in my post made the point that older workers liked social technologies just as much as their younger counterparts.


I think many companies adopt collaboration tools, mobile devices and other up-and-coming technologies because they already have cultures that accept change, even pursue it, and are comfortable with their employees assuming a certain degree of control over their own destinies. Those technologies likely work well in those kinds of environments. But the simple adoption of such technologies isn't suddenly going to change a company's culture, like flipping a switch.


Writing for InformationWeek, Chris Murphy shares a conversation he had with consultant Geoffrey Moore, author of "Crossing the Chasm," in which Moore said that adopting collaboration technologies simply because other companies appear to be doing it and young employees are coming to expect it is "the worst possible reason" to do so. As Moore told Murphy:

... As a result you're not going to do it very well, so it's just going to be a waste of money. Oh, and by the way, since you do it badly, the millennials will just laugh behind your back. ...

Moore encourages companies to identify logical reasons for adopting collaboration tools by examining their most critical moments of engagement and determining how such tools might improve those experiences. The moments will vary from company to company. For a services company, it might be when an employee talks with a customer. For a product development company, it might be when an engineer or designer needs a colleague's advice.


You know what? This is a good idea for technology adoption in a more general sense. Examine your processes and then determine which tools can improve them instead of buying the tools and then trying to find use cases.


Moore made another great point: CIOs shouldn't rush into social technologies just because they feel they are well behind the curve. Chances are, they aren't. While there is certainly a lot of buzz and a growing number of pilot implementations, we aren't yet seeing broad adoption of collaboration tools.


Here I'll steal an analogy from my colleague Susan Hall, who has compared cloud computing to high school: Though it might seem like everybody's doing it, actually a lot more folks are thinking about doing it. When it comes to the cloud, Susan recently cited a Cisco survey that found only 18 percent of global respondents are now using cloud computing in some fashion, but a whopping 88 percent expect to take it up within the next three years.


With both cloud computing and collaboration tools, I think smart CIOs are looking at potential use cases. If they've got the use cases, they move on to niggling enterprise architecture issues like security and integration, examining how new technologies can be used with existing systems. Then they begin crunching numbers and looking at possible financial savings and/or opportunities. If they've done all that, then they are ready for a pilot.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 11, 2011 5:14 PM Hannes Heckner Hannes Heckner  says:


Great article! I'd like to add that not the tools define the success, but more the processes and the people behind the processes who are willing or not willing to collaborate are key to success. Furtheemore I'd like to suggest a look at www.agreedo.com which applies a simple interface leaving enough room for company specific processes to take place

Best regards,



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