Collaboration derives much of its value to enterprises when it brings along a sense of collective achievement and is viewed as having been an enjoyable endeavor in the eyes of participants. Theories of collaboration are often rooted in disciplines related to sociology, psychology, biology and ethnography. Unfortunately, enterprise strategists and decision makers often focus solely on the applications (that reflect process) and technology (adding more collaboration tools). While process and productivity improvements do form baseline scaffolding for collaboration efforts, it is also important to identify human capital and social concerns across the workplace, within its work practices and of workers themselves. Culture is at the center of that effort. Although culture is also that "soft and mushy" side of collaboration (and knowledge management as well) that people have developed a disdain for.
Common views of culture typically relate to civilization, ethnicity and societal trends. Within enterprises however, culture takes on a different applied meaning around the organization’s values, institutions and norms. Values include artifacts such as a vision statement, principles declaration, or set of policies and procedures. Institutions include formal structures (e.g., business units, departments, titles, promotional paths), and informal structures (e.g., communities). Norms are the socially-enforced rules that guide conduct. All of these elements combine to establish enterprise doctrine, social order covenants and governance mechanisms that enact influence over workers to ascertain “corporate” identity and steer behaviors.
All of this has tremendous impact on how people collaborate. Organizations that fail to acknowledge culture issues can inadvertently create enormous barriers around trust, participation, cooperation, information sharing and reciprocity. Enterprises that are aware of cultural factors are more often (in my experience) to proactively include HR departments when undertaking enterprise collaboration strategies. Effective HR groups will have resources (or access to resources) to assess human capital and change management issues. Activities here include looking at the:
- Effectiveness of management communication
- Intensity of participation in community-building efforts
- Engagement of management and workers within recognition programs
- Awareness of performance goals and progress
- Confidence level in reward and incentive plans
Support for mentoring and succession-planning activities
This is only a partial list to illustrate some areas that should be examined. But understanding culture is 50% of the collaboration battle. Then you can look at process (to create the business case and establish "the point" as to why collaboration is needed) and technology (to create the right architecture and establish the appropriate development, integration, infrastructure and operational support).