Do Companies Need a Chief Collaboration Officer?

Ann All
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Collaboration in the Enterprise

Spending on the rise, but execs still worry about productivity.

In yesterday's post about government agencies' use of collaboration tools, I cited an IDG story that quoted a division head in the Department of Defense's Business Transformation Office. I'll admit it, the devil on my shoulder rolls its eyes and mutters "give me a break" when I see that kind of a reference. (Similar to the reaction I tend to have to job titles like samurai and ninja.) The angel on my shoulder, though, recognizes the mere existence of such an office at least suggests an organization has given some thought to bringing about positive change.


I thought of this when reading a Harvard Business Review column in which authors Morten T. Hansen, a management professor at University of California- Berkeley and author of "Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results," and Scott Tapp, senior vice president and general manager for Global Collaboration Services at PGi, make the case that companies need to appoint chief collaboration officers.


While the cynical part of me agreed with a reader named Steve Ardire who said there was no need for "another needless C-level 'cheerleader' position," I do agree with the authors that companies need to take an enterprise-wide approach to collaboration for it to truly be effective. Unfortunately, as they note, most companies only focus on collaboration within individual business units, making it easier for sales people to collaborate with other sales people, for instance. Getting employees to work across those dreaded silos is a much trickier task, and it's one they contend should be spearheaded by a C-level executive.


Among the responsibilities they suggest for a chief collaboration officer:

  • Work with other C-level executives to identify opportunities for collaboration across the company.
  • Work with business unit leaders to create goals related to collaboration initiatives.
  • Work with human resources to ensure performance evaluations, bonuses and promotions are aligned with collaboration goals.


Hansen and Tapp suggest a current C-level executive is probably best qualified to assume this role. Their candidates include the chief operating officer, chief financial officer, head of HR, head of strategy or the CIO. In fact, they write it's "a perfect area for the Chief Information Officer to go beyond IT, step up and take an enterprise-wide view. If you're a CIO looking to broaden your role and drive value across the company, this is your opportunity."


I do think CIOs tend to have high-level views of an entire company that might be even more holistic than the views of their C-level brethren. But a chief collaboration officer must be comfortable with crafting strategy, managing change and communicating with diverse audiences, traits not always possessed by CIOs.


Some of the readers who commented on the column suggest a committee would be better suited to improving collaboration than a single person. I like the thoughts offered by reader Peter Osborne, who opines the role "should be based on a person's track record of driving collaboration outside of a title." He wrote:

If you see this as an additional responsibility, I'm not sure it needs to be one of your C-level executives. It should be someone who has demonstrated an ability to bring people together without a title like that. The best place to find those people? In their performance reviews and/or in programs (if you have one) where employees recognize their peers for demonstrating these kinds of traits. And one more thing: This is about more than goal and compensation alignment. It's about creating infrastructures that encourage people to eliminate barriers to collaboration.

Removing those barriers to collaboration is tough, considering they are largely cultural rather than technical,

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 16, 2010 8:11 AM m ellard m ellard  says:

Don't know about this one. Seems like when there are "centers of excellence" in organizations, they often become jacks-of-all-trades (and masters of none). Similarly, you can add a collaboration officer, but if he/she doesn't have the knowledge base and/or clout, it'll be a few short months (weeks? days?) before folks all over the organization are giving them the end run.

Collaboration is very important - and the more data there is, the faster the digital communication, etc. - the more important it becomes. More than officer, perhaps there has to be a formal edict that projects won't get funded without specifics on how collaboration was pursued/incorporated.  And maybe, taking a page out of government's book, a specific requirement for collaboration (think MBE/WBE participation requirements for funding) but internal across departments, might hold greater sway?

Nov 26, 2013 2:31 PM Jason G Jason G  says:
I've been working on IT for over 20+ years. I do think as Technology evolves, so does the role of the CIO. You can read this article on why a CIO could be the best candidate for this new role. http://cdblog.centraldesktop.com/2013/11/chief-collaboration-officer/ Reply

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