By Mark Wilkinson

April 01, 2009

Have you run into people who told you they just weren’t any good at collaborating? Or maybe went so far as to say that they did not believe in collaborating at all? My guess is that your answer is no. It’s more likely that you have encountered people who seemed eager to collaborate, but for reasons all their own failed to contribute in a meaningful way. As marketing consultants we have learned that everyone has their own definition of what it means to collaborate.

I know we should not be surprised, but we often encounter project participants who impede the process of solution building by not fully joining in. The details always vary, but the common thread is that it is not in their personal interest to actively collaborate. While it is counterproductive and terribly annoying to have a collaborative process bent to a personal agenda, finger pointing will seldom resolve the issue. As much as we would like to solve this problem we realize that transforming an organization’s corporate culture is seldom part of our mandate.

Over the last few years my firm has looked at using various technologies to enhance workflow, manage documents, increase collaboration and, quite frankly, make both our job and our client’s job easier. After mixed results trying to get individuals and teams to adopt new tools, we finally adopted a new philosophy. We stopped worrying about coaching clients on how to expand their collaboration toolkit. If they are only willing to use the old standbys, email and telephony, we’ll run with that. This does not mean that we have given up on achieving the benefits inherent in modern collaboration tools.

Today we are developing a “best practices” approach to collaboration by first providing a flexible low-cost wiki for every client. The wiki serves as an easy to use central repository to capture and share knowledge as well as a collaboration platform with anytime anywhere access. Very little training is required to become a basic user. A wiki supports information exchange, keeps a history of all activity and, if needed, the information can be rolled back to a previous state.

Once a client’s wiki is operational we find that the level of adoption varies from person to person within the organization. Some firms are happy to post all the project related information and use the wiki as a knowledge management and collaboration tool. In other situations, we get a “wait and see” response and only a few participants. In both situations we lead by example, demonstrating how to use the wiki. Eventually even the most reluctant project members want to get login and password access to be sure they are not left out.

We know things are going well when clients look for more ways to use the wiki and ask for more special features. For example, we have observed that in many organizations there is a reluctance to edit what others have written. Wikis are designed to allow for multiple editors, but this does not mean everyone is ready to correct the boss’s contribution. To address this issue we have adapted our wiki tools by adding a comment box to each wiki page.

Two of the biggest roadblocks in adopting technology for collaboration are corporate culture and inadequate training. We are trying to address this issue by giving all clients a chance to experience collaboration technology, working with the willing and only using collaboration tools that require little training.

Do you see pros or cons in this approach?

Posted by Mark Wilkinson