Musings on the Collaborative Enterprise

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest post was written by Jeff Wilfong.

Dan Pontefract recently wrote in a blog post, The Holy Trinity: Leadership Framework, Learning 2.0 & Enterprise 2.0, about some rather interesting intersections for collaboration in the enterprise. He observes that with regard to Enterprise 2.0 (social media / technology for business):

  • Learning and knowledge management employees are attempting to integrate them into formal strategies (Learning 2.0),
  • Human resources and organization development consultants are focusing on leadership, values, and training programs (“Updated Leadership Framework”),
  • Technology workers are trying to adapt them to tools already used in the enterprise (Enterprise 2.0), and
  • Corporate communications and marketing are trying to figure out how to use them independently to simplify and streamline their work.

He believes this separated strategy of collaboration creates the “holy trinity” of what is occurring in many companies.

Simply put, this sort of organization is not truly collaborative, but haphazardly trying to implement social tools within distinct silos. Unfortunately, to effectively gather as many benefits as possible, the collaboration strategy must be consistent, congruent, and holistic of the whole, entire enterprise.

For me, when I think of an organization, I see a more mature start-up company, except that often times the policies, structure and norms have reduced the ability of the organization to be as innovative as it once was (the baby organization being the start-up). Why is this? As companies grow, as they mature into adults, special interests form. People wish to protect their silos, whether it be to protect their own jobs, to bolster prestige or power, or to save their teammates. Invariably policies and procedures get written from the results of thousands of meetings, which detract from the original mission of the organization (to be productive and innovative in some market).

The power of 2.0 is in integrating the organization so that arbitrary divisions of communication begin to open up into collaboration. When people are working together, talking together and acting together, the organization can truly accomplish more than sum of its employees. However, organizations often accomplish far less than the sum of its employees, in part because of barriers that get erected. E2.0 (Enterprise 2.0) technologies are only effective as the structure, culture, and attitude of leaders in an organization. Sure, people want to also be rewarded for collaboration, but this will come after the fundamentals are built. Down the line, I can help businesses measure collaboration, assess how collaborative employees feel their workplace is, and then reward them for appropriate behavior. However, large enterprises are looking for quicker solutions.

Many, many, many people are calling for organizations to rethink their silos right now, perhaps more than ever. However, very few organizations are proactively removing silos or barriers in a strategic way, and most organizations have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. They want to test out the ideal communication technologies before changing the siloed approach that have “worked” for them thus far. Yet, because 2.0 is a game changer culturally, we see all sorts of changes already happening.

Organizations need to be mindful of the dangers of creating siloed collaboration technologies and policies. We must not let Enterprise 2.0 go down that path; we must allow it to revolutionize the way people come together, work together and act together.

Author Jeff Wilfong has assisted with web 2.0 and business strategy for a number of large-scale organizations, such as Conoco-Phillips, the City of Sacramento and a multinational conglomerate based in India.  Jeff is currently earning his PhD in Organization Development with emphasis in Web 2.0 management. Learn more by visiting his site, E2.0 Pros.

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