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Collaboration is about behaviour, not software

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Collaboration is about behaviour, not software

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The social software market is undoubtedly booming, with it said to be worth several billion dollars already.  Whilst there are many facets of the social business field, in the enterprise sense, collaboration remains the kernel around which everything else hangs.  Software vendors push themselves as the answer to the collaboration conundrum facing organisations.

Press releases like this one from Clarizen are commonplace.  They talk about putting social collaboration to work, helping organisations achieve operational excellence.

They go on to suggest that their software is shaping the future of work by virtue of connecting the unstructured conversations in the workplace with structured work.

“A new generation of collaborative platforms is starting to emerge, where social features are built directly into the business tools employees are already familiar with… When implemented correctly, these new tools enable people to create, find and share information, connect with colleagues, customers and business partners and participate in communities more effectively than ever before…This type of collaborative work, where social is part of a core business process, is what I call ‘purposeful collaboration’… Bottom line: purposeful collaboration will drive the greatest business value.”

Which is all very nice, except research suggests that 80% of so of all enterprise social software projects fail to deliver the kind of value organisations hope for when they embark on them.

No doubt these organisations find that installing a piece of software doesn’t magically turn their enterprise into a collaborative hothouse with employees suddenly collaborating together now they have a tool to help them do so.

If only it was that simple.  The reality is often very different however.  The reality is often that most organisations are not collaborative at the moment.  Employee behaviour has been ingrained through years of reinforcement, that salary and promotion are intrinsically linked to individual performance.

Changing behaviours at work requires changing the environment that surrounds people when they’re at work.

You need an environment that gives people the right cues on a daily basis.  There are a number of levers you can employ to help you.  Here are a few of the more effective ones.

Organisational levers

These are things like your org chart.  Now I know you might be thinking that these are abstract artifacts from a bygone age, but how we are organised has a big impact on how we behave.  How many offices for instance locate employees according to department, whilst at the same time expecting cross-departmental collaboration?  Even if that demarcation is only virtual, in/out group psychology will still ensure people feel they belong more to ‘their’ team than the others.

Workplace design

This is a whole topic on its own, and a huge amount of research has gone into building workspaces that encourage the kind of behaviours at the core of social business.  Whether it’s the shape of the desks or the location of the coffee machine, it will have an impact on how your employees behave.

Getting the rewards right

As with workplace design, this is another area that has received a whole lot of attention over the past decade or so.  How are people motivated, and what are you offering them in order to secure the kind of behaviours you want?  What kind of behaviours are rewarded in your organisation?  Are you hoping for collaboration but rewarding individual performance for instance?


Closely linked to rewards is measurement.  Most organisations now have key performance indicators against which performance is measured.  Are these metrics the kind that will support the behaviours you wish to see in your organisation?

These are some of the key levers at your disposal when looking to create the kind of behaviours, and as such the kind of organisation you want.

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