If you thought succeeding at enterprise collaboration and social was hard, then you’ll be scared to hear that it’s only getting harder!
On one level, marketplace dynamics should be making life easier. Microsoft’s Office 365 has gained a clear lead in terms of functionality and marketplace penetration, and it can credibly claim to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for productivity and collaboration tools.
However, that’s just part of the picture.
Office 365 is complex in its own right, with almost a dozen different tools and user experiences to choose from. More significantly, alongside whatever corporate platform is being pursued, many business areas and individual staff are using their own collaboration tools, whether officially or as ‘shadow IT’.
We’re encountering organisations that are simultaneously using Office 365 (corporate), Workplace by Facebook (frontline staff), Slack (digital teams), Confluence and Hipchat (IT), Salesforce Chatter (sales) plus Dropbox, Trello and WhatsApp (all shadow IT). Ouch!
Complexity is only going to increase, and approaches need to reflect this. In practice, we see this as a classic ‘wicked problem’, which mandates a specific approach and actions.
Realities on the ground
In recent work with firms of all shapes and sizes, we’re seeing a number of patterns and challenges emerge:
- Organisations are complex, with unclear decision-making processes and each area heading in its own direction.
- There’s no shortage of collaboration tools already in place, and adding more will not automatically help.
- Collaboration tools vary greatly in levels of usage and corporate endorsement.
- One of the hardest challenges for staff is knowing what to use when.
- It’s not practical to map all collaboration tools in use, and any snapshot will quickly go out of date.
- Central teams, including IT, have very limited ability to force or enforce decisions about collaboration tools.
- Similarly, only in a few cases where tools are provided centrally will it be possible to ‘turn off’ collaboration tools.
- There’s no linear project that will make sense of and improve enterprise collaboration.
- It’s critical not to attempt to ‘boil the ocean’ and to avoid getting stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’.
It’s a wicked problem
While nothing in the previous list would come as a surprise, there are a lot of similarities to classic wicked problems.
The characteristics of a wicked problem can be described as:
- The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
- Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
- Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.
- Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique.
- Every solution to a wicked problem is a ‘one-shot operation.’
- Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.
(See the Wikipedia entry for the more spelled-out set of 10 characteristics.)
In the context of enterprise collaboration, the key considerations are that there’s no single way to understand the problem, and no set solution.
How to make progress
Wicked problems are inherently impossible to ‘solve’, but that doesn’t mean that we should give up, or that there are no productive steps to take.
We see that there are four drivers for successfully tackling collaboration.
- The goals are to help users to collaborate better, and improve the manageability and sustainability of the overall toolset.
- Projects should focus on delivering immediate benefits, while heading things in the right direction.
- Business risks should be identified and either avoided or mitigated.
- This is, as much as anything, a governance challenge, and it must be addressed as such.
This means getting stuck into activities that will help staff, while bringing together the (many) stakeholders to better coordinate decision-making about collaboration tools and behaviours.
The ‘what to use when’ chart is a classic example, even though this quickly runs aground when it attempts to cover ‘everything’.
More broadly, collaboration scenarios and stories can put shape around how to meet user and business needs, guiding both behaviours and tool use.
From a governance perspective, early wins can be learned from and promoted, and steps taken to increase the maturity of collaboration behaviours.
There’s no answer, but plenty of work
The first step to making real progress in today’s bewildering enterprise collaboration environment is recognise the nature of the problem. Give up looking for a single ‘solution’ or ‘one platform to rule them all’ — it then becomes possible to take actions that have a real impact.
Enterprise collaboration is a wicked problem, but that shouldn’t scare us off!