Collaboration seems like a simple idea: Get multiple people or teams to work on a project as a group, and produce better results faster. IT decision-makers might think the most important -- and most difficult -- part of collaboration is choosing the right tools to deploy. But they would be wrong.
While tools are an important part of collaboration, they're just that -- tools. If a team doesn't understand how to use collaboration tools effectively, they're about as helpful as a fish with a bicycle. IT leaders should focus on three pillars to make collaboration a focal point and ensure successful collaboration in the workplace: culture, tools and education.
"Well-facilitated teams see fewer emails, better governance -- because work is happening in sanctioned platforms -- and faster time to market," said IDC analyst Wayne Kurtzman. "And perhaps the best part: Employees are better connected with each other, more in tune with the company and more engaged with the company."
1. Creating a collaborative culture
Before introducing collaboration tools into company workflows, organizations must have an established culture of collaboration. The basis for collaboration is people working with people. It sounds simple, but key choices can affect how easy it is for employees to work with one another. Companies with open floor plans, for example, are more likely to foster collaboration because they lack the walls and other physical barriers created by cubicles and individual offices.
If multiple teams are working on a project, information silos can become a roadblock to successful workplace collaboration. Hiring people who have strengths in collaboration and teamwork goes a long way in fostering conversation between teams and breaking down those silos.
"You need to be able to foster a culture of collaboration, from the bottom up and from the top down," Kurtzman said. Managerial roles, for example, should become more mentor-focused to facilitate teamwork and collaboration, he said.
2. Choosing the right collaboration tools
Finding the right collaborative tools is the next step in fostering successful collaboration in the workplace. The collaboration market is flooded with a wide variety of tools and platforms that offer popular capabilities, like messaging, video and file sharing. Finding the right tools for your organization means knowing exactly what your teams' workflows look like. If your teams are collaborating from multiple locations, for example, video conferencing can be an invaluable tool.
"Video makes remote people feel like a team," said David Maldow, founder of Let's Do Video. "Video lets people make the personal bonds that create a team and shared camaraderie." Making video a natural part of your company culture means making it highly accessible and easy to use. Many companies achieve this through video-enabled huddle rooms.
"Collaboration is part technology and part culture," Kurtzman said. "You need the technologies that empower work to be done -- that means integrated within your collaboration platform and natively if possible."
Collaboration tools should integrate with the unified communications platforms employees already use. By embedding a messaging or content sharing app with a platform that's already a part of a team's workflow, it encourages a wider net of adoption. Integrating collaboration also cuts down on shadow IT applications that might be used to share sensitive information.
3. Keep your teams educated
Even if you have the tools and culture established and in place, collaboration is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. Organizations need workers to understand how collaboration tools fit into their workflow and how to use them effectively.
Educating teams on how to use new tools is the first part of supporting workers for successful workplace collaboration. Organizations should also look at follow-up training and refresher training for tools. As collaboration tools are constantly improved and updated, so should the training for employees. Creating a network of support and a knowledge base around collaboration tool updates goes a long way in fostering a collaborative culture and ensuring workplace collaboration success.