If you read this blog, chances are you’ve spent countless hours trying to sell the value of collaboration to business units or project teams across your organization. I’ve tried to creative tactics – honestly, I’d have a few less greys if Daniel Pink had published To Sell is Human years ago – focusing on business issues, value propositions, inspiration and potential.
I’ve sold the successes we had and retold the stories we shared. I’ve surfaced problem resolutions and surprising outcomes to help teams connect positive outcomes to their own situation. I dug and dug until I found something that connected with the target audience. Obviously, I see huge value in collaboration; sharing ideas, encouragement, support and expertise is what I do on a day-to-day basis and what I expect from others, but that’s not a universal truth and it’s important to remember that when you are trying to “help.”
In almost every org I’ve worked for/with, the training for social technology is to simplify the tools and site development to the point where any user can start building sites and sharing content as soon as possible. Make it easy to use and impossible to break. We develop templates to minimize the required starting lift. We create chunked support materials to allow employees learn only what they need to learn to perform a task.
Unfortunately, that simplification also makes it hard to control the flow of information and content on sites. Employees are routinely asked to fit a square peg into a (nicely designed) round hole. For our Jam sites, we ask teams to use the SAP created templates or a customized TELUS template. This makes it easy to create sites, but also makes it easy for the purpose of the site to get lost behind widgets and design. The general assumption is that if we can let teams hit the ground running, chances are they will be more interested in sharing ideas or content.
In reality, the most important collaboration occurs before you design or launch any new site.
Selling collaboration is one thing; creating a solution is another. Before a team creates a solution, there are many important questions that should be asked. At TELUS, we’ve stopped talking about the benefits of collaboration, and now simply ask why is the site being built, what value does it add and what will help it stay relevant over time?
If your new users can’t answer these questions, chances are even the best designed, easy to use community will stagnate quickly. Even worse, if users don’t know why they are visiting a site and are forced to hunt blindly for content, the platform will become a distraction that will derail productivity.
We’ve realized that standardization and simplification are important, but creating sites that allow users to ask a question, find an answer or consume content effectively is what will drive results and allow the user to get back to the task at hand. Alex Pang – author of the Distraction Addiction – offers this insight:
“There are times when it can be a lot more efficient to ask the person who knows the answer to a question, than to hunt around the corporate intranet or two-year-old crowd-sourced FAQ for the answer,” Pang writes. “However, we need to just do that judiciously, be mindful that your convenience may come at someone else’s expense, and do it only when necessary.”
So how can you help?
The biggest value I can add to any discussion about collaboration is perspective. When I meet with teams, the first thing I do is share a single .pptx slide.
What is the purpose of this site?
While this seems like an obvious question, it’s one that gets forgotten more often than not. Is it a marketing site? A support channel? A site set up because your director said we need to use the new tools? If you don’t determine the purpose of your site, you will most likely not showcase the best content or user experience.
If you want your Jam space to be a support channel – maybe an easy way to allow field technician to ask a question to a large group of technicians and capture that context – it makes sense to surface the Forums or even Feed Widget on your Overview page. If your site is more of a brochure site – maybe a Meet the HR team – it makes more sense to showcase the People widget (Featured Member) and work on an engaging Overview page. If it’s a Learning space, highlighting the appropriate content (maybe, using hashtags) helps direct users as soon as the page loads.
Bottom line, even though ideas like all content must be accessible in less than 3-clicks have been debunked, your site will be more effective is you surface appropriate content on the home page. In order to do this, you need to clearly understand the site’s purpose.
Will this site improve on existing process?
In large organizations, the creative workarounds teams come up with are incredible. When a tool or process doesn’t meet a team’s needs, it is morphed until it does. Asking a team to change for the sake of changing is a difficult and often detrimental to your working relationship. If you don’t ask this question, and proceed to implement a solution that impacts actual work, your business partners will begin to question your intentions.
Sometimes it’s best to simply walk away.
When I meet with teams and ask them to explain there current process and try to determine if changing how the team does something is worth the work and training required. If it’s not, I am honest with them. “Listen, this tool won’t make your team more productive or reduce the time required to perform specific tasks. If there are other issues you are having, maybe we can use our collaborative tools to help.”
I’d rather earn their trust and build a relationship so when I do find a problem that can be solved by our collaborative tools/methodologies, they know I actually understand there issues and am trying to help.
How can you keep group members coming back?
By definition, collaboration is a two-way street. A lot of group admins assume the two-way flow of ideas and content is the responsibility of the users. By asking this question prior to launch, you can model behaviors and pre-set the expectations of the group. How often will the content be updated? What is the expected reply time to questions asked in the forums? If a group admin doesn’t have a clear understanding of posting cadence and service level agreements, users may question the value of the site.
When we launched Jam, we asked technicians to use Forums to ask questions, promising timely responses. Because no SLA was documented, questions took a back seat to other tasks. Once technicians realized it was faster to call another technician or simply start scouring product documentation, they stopped using the site. We lost their trust, and almost instantly our collaborative space became static.
When we proposed a similar solution to another group, we talked expectations and commitments. Group admins committed to answering all questions within one hour. As a result, technicians began to trust the process and actively participate. The tool met the needs of the user group and as a result, the Jam space was successful.
Before you can help team use new tools and transform they way they work, I suggest you take a step back and determine if they are ready to support the transformation and if the shift is appropriate.