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There is a startling disconnect between the enthusiasm for collaboration and social tools, and their real-world impact. Almost every organisation has a story about new tools being launched, only to peter out without delivering hoped-for benefits.
The fault is not with the ambitions, nor with the tools themselves. The real problem is that in many cases, social and collaboration tools are launched without a clear purpose.
With a clear purpose, it becomes possible to think more clearly about the role of collaboration and social tools, how to introduce them into organisations, and what else must be done to make them a success.
Define a clear purpose
The first step is to recognise that “increase collaboration” is not a purpose in itself. Instead, it’s an activity, and a means to an end. Why should people be collaborating? Around what topics? How should they be interacting, and how often?
Launching new collaboration and social tools to “see what emerges” is also highly risky. If you’re lucky, extraordinary uses of the new capabilities are discovered by areas of the organisation, and the benefits are quickly demonstrated. More commonly, however, adoption is patchy, and collaboration loses momentum, leading to failure.
A better approach is to define a clear purpose for collaboration, to target initial efforts. Organic adoption and use then becomes a bonus, alongside more directed efforts.
There are many possible purposes for introducing collaboration and social tools, some big, and others small:
|‘Big’ purposes||‘Small’ purposes|
Note that all the ‘big’ goals — and many of the ‘small’ ones — are focused on business outcomes, and are specific enough to form the basis of a well-structured project. It should also be relatively easy to measure or assess the success of the initiative.
Put flesh on the bones
With a clear purpose (or purposes), it becomes possible to put concrete shape around the approach that needs to be taken. This can be in conjunction with the Pathway to social cards, which provide a very hands-on technique for teams to explore potential approaches.
Together, it should be possible to determine:
- Who should be targeted, as potential users of collaboration and social tools
- What they could or should be using the new tools for
- How the project will ensure adoption, use and ultimately, success
Taking a few of the potential purposes listed earlier as examples:
- The starting point for establishing communities of practice is to identify existing communities, and to approach them with an offer of better tools. Education and adoption will focus on showing how communities of practice can work effectively, in the broader sense beyond just the technology. A part-time community manager will be put in place to help introduce new behaviours, and to address issues and roadblocks as they arise.
- To support the senior leadership retreat, the internal communications team will contact key stakeholders to understand the agenda and activities. A selection of collaboration tools will be incorporated into a simple mobile-friendly site that combines information about the retreat, and provides a list of attendees (with photos). Team members will be on-site throughout the retreat to provide one-on-one support for the participants.
These two examples show how a clear purpose allows a wider spectrum of activities to be considered, beyond the tools themselves. At the end of the day, it allows the team to do what it takes to ensure a successful outcome, beyond a set-and-forget launch.
If in doubt, start small
As always, if the ‘big’ purposes seem daunting, start small. Widespread use of collaboration and social tools requires significant culture change, and this will take time.
Instead of a big project that fails, take on a small objective that can be realistically delivered. If chosen correctly, this will demonstrate the wider potential for collaboration and social interaction, and will build momentum for future activities.
Regardless of the size of the initiative, however, always ensure there’s a clear purpose, beyond “we want people to collaborate!”