For the past 20 years leadership and organizational development experts have been exhorting the benefits of “breaking down silos”, “flattening the organization,” and establishing “cross-functional teams” based on the premise that greater collaboration fuels success.
When people collaborate, they work cohesively to achieve a shared goal. Think of a symphonic orchestra. The musicians and conductor come together and collaborate to perform a composer’s piece of music. Together, they interpret the musical notes on a piece of paper — the sounds, tempo, volume, even the feelings they wish to evoke — and transform that sheet music into a marvelous acoustical experience for an audience.
Come to think of it, without collaboration, would the United States of America have ever been born? It took a visionary, influential group of men to inspire their peers and share their vision of a free and independent nation. A group of men who collectively agreed to declare the thirteen colonies’ independence from Britain and led their people through first through a rebellion and then an all-out war, into becoming an organized, independent nation.
What Makes Collaboration Work?
There are many aspects to collaboration that are necessary for it to work successfully. Certainly having a shared vision and goal is important. The willingness and ability of everyone to act cohesively is another. Trust in each other is also crucial.
But these alone aren’t enough.
Context matters. Especially if collaboration is going to generate desired results.
Imagine if Paul Revere had ridden out to a countryside that wasn’t already primed to understand his message “the British are coming,” what that meant they had to do, and why that was important. Without everyone understanding and buying into a desire for establishing a free and independent nation and the need to protect their homes and the militia’s supplies in Concord, they may very well have thrown a huge dinner party for the British instead!
Without context, despite everyone’s good intentions, collaboration can go terribly wrong.
Creating and Sharing Context and Content
Context is primarily shared through our communications and actions. In business, that almost always means using email and/or some software tool.
At Kerio, we became incredibly frustrated with the lack of tools on the market that provided content and context together. We tried many tools and finally began building our own. Because we saw how important it was that the content contained in a document by itself was not enough. And email merely multiplied the problem with too many/not enough/the wrong people being copied with multiple versions of documents being attached (or not). With conversations set apart from the content, it was all too easy to get confused, misunderstand what was being said and why, and eventually bottlenecks developed and projects derailed.
Determined to put that behind us, we started to create our own software service that would do what we needed. We now run all of Kerio using that software, which we now market and call Samepage.
Samepage customers tell us repeatedly that the greatest benefit they get is how fast they’re able to make decisions, produce, sell, and market products, support customers and channel partners and how much the quality of what they do has increased.
And the primary reason why? Because Samepage keeps the conversation (the context) with the documents (the content) and serves it all up in a newsfeed so they no longer need email.
No more misunderstandings. No duplicate documents. No out-of-date documents. No conflicting documents. More lively and informed discussions that result in better content, products, marketing, support, and more efficient processes. Everything’s more accurate, more timely, and more fun.
While measuring the ROI of collaboration still needs work, the anecdotal results are there. And all of them show the dependence on keeping content and context together. So as you think about how you’re going to improve your company’s performance, and how to create a collaborative culture that yields bigger dividends, be sure you’re keeping the content and its conversation together.