At a recent client onsite briefing, I was asked to discuss different categories of collaboration. This type of group conversation I find is always valuable. It provides a framework for people to construct and segment various use case scenarios involving collaboration and begin thinking about the common capabilities, behaviors, attributes and patterns that each category might possess. Once that framework is sketched out, the group can assign different technologies that might be relevant solutions into each of those categories. This is clearly not an architecture effort but can provide important context and input for architects as they map out the various collaborative services that need to be included within a particular domain or solution architecture for collaborative infrastructure.
For this particular session I first discuss some of the reasons why people collaborate. For simplicity sake I tend to address the question by discussing collaboration as it occurs within four basic scenarios:
1. Process requirements require user engagement: People involved in business processes often are assigned certain roles and responsibilities that direct their efforts towards collaboration with others. For instance, a claim adjustor must collaborate with those investigating a transaction for fraud detection as part of an exception handling process. Field sales personnel could be required to work together with a corporate market analyst on a regular basis as part of a competitive intelligence process.
2. Shared activities creates a sense of co-dependency that motivates collaboration: To some extent, shared activities can be considered a subset of a process (and you would be correct) but my main purpose in breaking this out is to allow discussion on collaboration within projects or other collections of shared tasks (people may not formally call all clustered activities a project). Activities of this type often create co-dependencies between group members. Co-dependencies take advantage of self-interest as motivation to collaborate. The group needs everyone to succeed (to various extents) in order for the team to be considered successful and for that self-motivated person to perhaps succeed as well. There is of course the extreme that occurs when "great teams" perform at high levels and go well-beyond self-interest and collaborate richly to ensure the success of other group members. Self-interest or allegiance to team solidarity can also promote collaboration.
3. Community participation induces contribution: Professional or social interaction can encourage and persuade people to share information and know-how which in turn, can lead to ad-hoc collaboration. While community participation does not defacto guarantee collaboration, healthy communities with the effective leadership and followership traits can create a variety of emotions across members ranging from empathy (to help someone struggling with an issue) to a sense of activism (that the community can act as a change agent within an organization). So collaboration here is often influenced by relationship factors that coax people to interact and share.
4. Network connections foster reciprocal cooperation: Social networks are all the rage right now any many believe that the topic is over-hyped. It is over-hyped but also, in my experience, social networks have a salient impact on collaboration levels overall. In one example, Person A is collaborating with Person B. Person B taps into their social network to gain advice, to make sense out of something or perhaps to connect with someone who has the appropriate know-how. Person B then turns around and continues to work together with Person A. The cooperative nature of social networking in this case was to supplement another collaborative interaction. Social networks themselves can also be viewed as a type of collaborative model as well. The type of cooperation within social networks may not be as explicit in terms of the collaboration found in other scenarios but that does not diminish it from being considered with a categorization model. There are a variety of social networks - some are personal (used for career advice or mentoring), some are formed based on professional connections, others could be formed by people having other associations such as a common educational background or share an experience with a previous employer.
The underlying goal I have as I walk people through these examples is to set the stage for discussing the notion that the level of collaboration that can be conscripted by an organization is limited. Organizations need to realize that "great collaboration" happens when people volunteer more than what they are required to offer. In some examples, such as collaboration within business processes or within certain types of activities (such as a project), collaboration can be directed to some extent. But the collaboration that organizations would love to tap into (for a variety of learning, knowledge management, performance and innovation reasons) occurs when it is transcends what is directed and becomes an environment of "volunteerism". At this point, people collaborate more deeply.
When organizations address the intangible factors that influence people's willingness to give-of-themselves, then they will voluntarily collaborate in a manner much richer (e.g., sharing of know-how, taking the load off of another team member - basically going well-beyond the minimal requirement expected from those with whom they are collaborating). The gating factors that influence how much collaboration can be "directed" versus "volunteered" often gets us back to a discussion on organizational dynamics (e.g., culture, politics, professional development, benefit programs, managerial leadership qualities, etc.).
In the graphic below, a simple illustration, I try to illustrate how people volunteer to a greater degree when it comes to communities and social networks versus processes and activities. It's not a perfect argument but helps illustrate the people have options for sharing what they know - and they may feel more readily aware and engaged in a community or network situation than in a formal or structured work activity where the value of going beyond what is directed may not be something they perceive as necessary.
This leads us into a work-in-progress segmentation model for collaboration based on four basic categories:
- Process-centric collaboration
- Activity-centric collaboration
- Community-centric collaboration
- Network-centric collaboration
This is not meant to be an exclusive taxonomy, or even the one that a client should use, I try to position it as a starter kit more or less. This example categorization can then be extended. Metrics for assessing the value of process-centric collaboration would be found in the impact improved collaboration had on the process itself - the process outcome determines what metrics to use. On the other hand, metrics for activity-centric collaboration would be found in the functional impact improved collaboration would have on the activity outputs (deliverables). The focus here is not so much on the end-to-end process but the more limited collection of tasks. Some metrics might not be so easy to derive. Metrics for community-centric collaboration might best be found by whatever measures an organization has for informal learning and development/adoption of best practices or perhaps through improvements in skills or competencies of those involved in the community.
The point of this exercise is not to just say "this is our model, you should use it". My goal is to get people talking - hopefully with each other and not necessarily through me. If the group I'm working with is able to take ownership of these concepts and run with them during out session together, then they will construct their own derivative work which will deliver more value than a generic model since it will be contextually meaningful and applicable within their own environment.