The Collaborative Organization by Jacob Morgan

Jacob Morgan is principal at The Chess Media Group and has been a very active promoter of Collaborative Software for the last few years.

I had the opportunity to meet him at a party at the Enterprise 2.0 Summit in Boston in 2011. I knew his work before that as I’ve read many of the case studies his company has shared through their blog. I was quite impressed by his enthusiasm and his sharp mind on the topic despite his rather young age (he was 28 back then). He told me then he was writing a book : I guess it is the first time I read a book that was introduced to me by his author prior to the publication so please forgive me for bragging about it.

The Collaborative Organization introduces itself as a Strategic guide to solving your internal business challenges using emerging social and collaborative tools. It is a truly useful book as it is clear, actionable, based on solid experience and many research studies. It allows to define a strategy suited to your own context with many tricks of the trade to tactically address the many issues such project implies.

Last but not least, the book contains insights from many thought leaders such as Don Tapscott (already quoted here), Gil Yehuda, Charles H Green, Oscar Berg or Andrew McAfee and, for each section, there is a testimony by a project leader of such initiative in many different industries : insurance, publishing, video game, health care, logistics, government, organisation …

This allows to multiply the perspectives and make it a genuine valuable and collaborative effort …

What is the problem ?

Jacob followed the wise adage and started with the problem. And the problem this book addresses is how to make organizations more productive, efficient and engaging thanks to new emergent technologies around collaboration ? Jacob very wisely avoids the buzzword trap (Social stuff) and concentrates more on this perspective : collaboration.

More often than not, collaborative platforms are deemed as solution looking for a problem. Actually, many implementations are only concentrating on the “bring the tool and they will fly in” and unfortunately this approach hardly succeeds.

The Collaborative Organization puts a strong effort in framing the problem and assess the consequences of a lack of collaboration in terms of multi-directional communication, knowledge transfer and sharing, team alignment, collective intelligence, trust or ideation.

The recommendation : identify business problem(s) you want to address using these tools and define them as use cases to see how these collaborative platforms will help in tackling them. All this work is based on solid data gathered through Jacob’s projects and / or extensive research. So the book draws on the story of different organizations such as universities (Pennsylvania State), telecom organizations (Telus), printing services (Océ), or consulting (FSG) to explain this problem based approach and the quantified results that were observed.

The books also offers a very helpful way of framing the vision of the collaborative organisation around the relatioships between technology, human behavior and business culture. This quote from Augie Ray executive director of community and collaboration at USAA (a company with a proven track record on 21st century management) is quite telling in this respect :

It is vital for business decision makers to realize the accelarating pace of change that is occuring in technology, human behavior and business culture; moreover, it is important to recognize that these three things do not move evenly but in fits and starts. An idea that is supported only by innovative technology but that fails to fit either current consumer behavior or organizational culture is doomed to fail. Conversely, an organization that waits until technology, behavior and culture are comfortably and adequately evolved can miss out on opportunities.

Risk Management

Such new tool implementation implies a proper project approach and just like any project, there is a need for risk management. Jacob’s book list all of them and split them in two parts : the risks of investing and the risk of NOT investing in these collaborative technologies.

Again, there usually is only one side of the risks being considered and it is the former : the latter is just as critical. In a view to being as actionable as possible, the risk of investing are listed and a response strategy is suggested : confidential information leak, inappropriate content, tools not used, loss of internal control, people taking over credit from shared information, information overload. This is for risk management during the project implementation.

The risk of NOT investing should be used instead to sell the approach : people not engaged, decreased productivity, lack of innovation context, lack of knowledge capture and sharing etc …

A very interesting part is the one on collaborative software as a double edge sword. The effect of reducing the “personalness” of interaction through this tool is seen by the author as an opportunity as it “lowers the risk of interacting with other people” : communication is down to the bare written word, is asynchronous and allows time to think before react, etc … That is an interesting perspective.

Building the Team

The chapter dedicated to the team in charge of the project probably is the one providing the least insight. Don’t get me wrong, it is still valuable to make the whole book consistant but, in all fairness, a team dedicated to this type of project implementation is pretty similar to any team in charge of deploying new enterprise software.

Framework and models

On the technology front, the book offers an evaluation framework for the strategy (build or buy), the vendor and the different types of collaborative technologies (blogs, RSS, forums, microblogs etc …) that will come in handy to gain a better understanding of the tech landscape Vs the organization specific context.

Another very useful framework is the one around maturity model. The Community Roundtable already set up one a few years back and Jacob’s one is pretty similar. It draws on the usual areas : goals and objectives, organizational culture, process, technology and governance.

I like how this type of tools makes visible the vision and what the organization wants to achieve but in all fairness, I’m not quite sure this is very actionable to follow-up on organization evolution. The one defining the organization maturity might be more telling in terms of value :

The last component of this maturity model allows to define the implementation strategy for the pilot phase depending of the scope and the duration, with 4 categories in the deployment quadrant : skeptical, reluctant, assertive, willing.

Dealing with resistance

Implementing tools to improve collaboration may prove to be a big change in most of organisation. And whenever there is change, resistance has to be dealt with. Again, based on solid experience, The Collaborative Organization proposes many strategies depending on the type of change. Jacob has identified 3 main types : Manager, User and IT.

Most of these can be address in the way the roll out is carried out. For instance, not overwhelming users with too many features at once and introducing them gradually, each time measuring how it solves business problems is a good way to tackle these resistances.

A real strategy to foster adoption also is a way to indirectly deals with resistance. Jacob draws on successful initiatives to provide some elements to foster adoption, based on four stages :

  • Initial features : SSO, Profiles, search, feeds
  • additional features : project/task management, work spaces and groups, file creation storage and sharing
  • System integration : HR, CRM, ERP …
  • Best Practices and ideation

Actionable and valuable

This is an excellent book for anyone involved in such collaboration software implementation project. It provides the reader with pragmatic tools to pilot the project and gain a deep understanding of what these tools can bring to the business. To paraphrase Roderick Kramer :

“The willingness of individuals to cooperate collaborate with other members of an organization is one of the major determinants of organizational effectiveness and efficiency.”

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