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The Collaboration Framework’s Organizational Enablers: People and Culture (1 of 3)

May 14, 2010

In my previous blog entry, I described the first component – vision and strategy – of the Collaboration Framework. In this next series of posts, I will describe the second component, which is the set of three organizational enablers – (1) people and culture, (2) process and governance, and (3) technology – required to foster and sustain the value of collaboration.

Again, I will excerpt much from the “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One” report because frankly, I couldn’t have written the following any better :-):

The people and culture component of collaboration tends to be perceived as the softest aspect of change and may be the easiest to overlook. However, Consortium members agree that tackling the people and culture component is key to capturing the business value of collaboration. The challenge for most organizations is to evolve from vertical hierarchies of command and control to more horizontal organizations and self-directed teams in which people interact laterally. Rather quickly, this causes organizations to have a combination of vertically organized business units and functions and de facto horizontal collaboration and integration.

For example, employees in one department may end up helping those in another department, perhaps unrelated to their own immediate work but absolutely critical for the organization. The employees offering this help may spend several hours per day in activities that are beyond their organizational unit but have substantive impact on the organization’s goals and objectives. The employees may even ask to be partially freed from their usual responsibilities to assist with cross-functional priorities.

Since collaboration enables employees to cut across vertical silos, people practices and cultural values have to reflect a different way of working together. For example, it may be necessary to increase communication to convey the collaboration vision and actions to reinforce it; re-align individual performance metrics, redesign business processes, and review recruiting processes to incorporate collaborative contributions; and deploy programs and tools for employees to assess and grow their collaborative skills. Over time, the organizational structure should be reviewed to formalize emerging reporting lines.

Consortium members identified collaborative behaviors; human resources processes; metrics and measurement systems; and benchmarking as the most important attributes of the Collaboration Framework to address people and culture.


Collaborative Behaviors

When Consortium members discussed the collaborative behaviors and practices necessary for success, they agreed that it is very difficult to conform whether those behaviors and practices actually exist within an organization and are embedded in its culture. For example, reward systems often create incentives for individual as opposed to collaborative efforts; in another example, subject-matter experts may be reluctant to share information for fear of losing control, and thus the free movement of ideas among them may be limited.

Consortium members generally agree that collaborative practices and organizational values require change or adaptation at all levels—senior leadership, middle management, and the front line. As a starting point, a few Consortium members found it very useful to codify and implement collaboration practices and behaviors at the project team level to facilitate collaboration both within the team and outside the team with stakeholder groups. Once these organization-wide collaboration guidelines and models are documented and implemented, they enable teams to apply them within either existing or new workflows, enabling greater team performance and generating initial change momentum.

However, while very effective, empowering teams with collaboration creates a new dynamic that should be addressed. When collaboration tools make the activities of front-line employees more transparent to senior leaders, middle managers may feel threatened and may become a stumbling block to change. Middle managers are likely to be the most affected by increased collaboration, and their role of coordinating and aggregating information and options to enable decision making may be greatly reduced by front-line self-synchronization. To address this situation, a manager’s role should evolve to be more of a coach and facilitator to ensure that the right resources can be applied to the right priorities at the right time, regardless of functional organization. Talented managers should be given new responsibilities and opportunities
to contribute in new ways.

Consortium members also recommend reviewing current policies, incentives, and reward systems to ensure that they are reinforcing the desired behaviors and that misaligned incentives are eliminated. This includes ensuring that employees who contribute to cross-functional priorities managed outside of their home organizational units are recognized and rewarded for their contributions. Employee performance review systems should also capture and recognize collaborative behaviors as part of a core set of organizational capabilities. A Consortium example of a reward system to recognize team collaboration is Cisco’s quarterly award for “Collaboration Across Cisco,” which recognizes teams who implement Web 2.0 technologies for collaboration with employees, customers, or partners. Employees nominate teams and then vote for the selected finalists.

A final area that Consortium members identified as important to support collaborative behaviors involves change management. An organization’s change management process and messaging should include and leverage the collaboration vision established for that organization. They should also scale to address existing processes and to develop new concepts, products, and services.

Human Resource Processes

A second attribute of the people and culture component of the Collaboration Framework is the set of human resource processes that must be enabled or modified to support collaboration readiness at both the individual and organizational level. These processes include recruiting, performance management, training and development, resource allocation, and the physical work environment.

Consortium members that have experience with adapting human resources processes recommend addressing the following questions to help assess whether an organization is leveraging human resources processes to further its collaboration objectives.

Is collaborative behavior a criterion during the recruiting and performance management processes? Some organizations are starting to probe personal collaboration experience during the interview process to understand an individual’s predisposition toward contributing in a collaborative environment. It also could involve formal testing of collaborative skills in the context of projects or business processes to which a future employee might be assigned. Extending the logic, collaborative skills and experience are prerequisites to recruiting, and teams are assembled in ways to optimize collaboration. Performance management processes should document existing collaboration and communication skills and help employees plan how these skills might be enhanced with the relevant job experience and training.

Are programs in place to help employees assess and develop their communication and collaboration skills? In the early stages of the collaboration evolution curve, individual training and development of collaboration and communication skills are often sporadic, uncoordinated efforts taking place in different parts of the organization. As the focus on collaboration matures, systematic approaches should be implemented to help employees develop the necessary skills, and collaboration assessment tools should be made available as part of an annual assessment process.

Are “collaboration profiles” being used to track employee communication and collaboration skills for resource allocation? A gap analysis between the current and required skills can identify where individual employee training and overall recruiting efforts are required. The end result is the development of a collaboration profile that can be leveraged by both the employees and the organization.

Does the physical work environment need to be modified to reflect the requirements of a collaborative environment? This usually involves a facilities or workplace management function in the planning and implementation effort. Early attempts may involve experimental changes to the physical workspace to tinker with the best ways to enable face-to-face and/or virtual collaboration. With time, the physical work environment should be designed to improve collaboration, and the resulting best practices should be documented and shared throughout the organization. The physical work environment is eventually designed to support both existing and new work processes, with emphasis on flexible group environments and the appropriate technology support.

Consortium members were also interested in exploring tools that would help diagnose the culture of their organizations. While Consortium members ran out of time on this topic and further investigation is much required, one tool investigated by the Culture subgroup was the Cultural Intelligence (CI) model by Elisabeth Plum,which enables teams to bridge and benefit from the cultural complexity of people from different nationalities, work areas, professional backgrounds, personalities, and organizational cultures. CI combines the emotional, cognitive, and practical dimensions of cross-cultural encounters and allows more effective and fulfilling cross-cultural collaboration. More information about CI is available at

Metrics and Measurement Systems

As part of implementing collaboration, members shared how they are grappling with the challenges of measuring the value of collaboration, tracking the return on investment, and linking results to how people are evaluated and rewarded. Early Consortium member insights suggest three areas to explore for those interested in implementing metrics to measure the value of collaboration:

  • Can the organization measure and track collaboration technology awareness, usage, and adoption?
  • Does the organization have the ability to measure the impact of collaboration on business process indicators (BPIs) and business operational metrics, such as cycle time, quality, productivity, customer satisfaction, and innovation rate?
  • Does the organization quantify the impact of collaboration on business value and operational goals?

The measures of awareness, usage, and adoption, such as counts, hits, and coverage, track how broadly the tools are being rolled out and how often they are being used. Specific metrics may include the numbers of communities and of individuals participating in communities, the number of videos recorded or blog posts, and the number of tool downloads. They provide the most immediate and direct way to gauge adoption and should be implemented from the onset in the investigative stage.

Organizations that have deployed and are using adoption and usage metrics have found them very useful; they are “must-have” metrics for anybody going down the path of collaboration. However, the emerging perspective is that, while they provide circumstantial evidence of the value of collaboration, these metrics fall short of providing a direct measure of business impact. In early but promising efforts, some organizations are tracking qualitative indicators of collaboration through surveys and focus groups. For example, Consortium members have explored the use of the Collaboration Readiness Assessment Survey to track progress and develop internal benchmarks against key organizational attributes of collaboration. Others are starting to establish cause-and-effect linkages with business metrics, and these organizations see those linkages as absolutely essential for business and IT leaders to make investment decisions and to understand whether the expected benefits of collaboration translate into business value. Collaboration is linked to the relevant business metrics of the underlying business processes before, during, and after implementation of collaboration.

More challenging to measure but equally important is the evolution of the organization toward a collaborative enterprise. The goal is to assess whether barriers to collaboration are falling, individual collaboration skills are being built, and misaligned rewards are being eliminated. One Consortium member raised the issue that, while progress within an organization should be tracked, managers should be aware that comparing absolute measures across organizations could be misleading. One organization may be “less collaborative” than another because of industry structure, internal style and values, or other aspects of its business system. Organizations that conduct more confidential or proprietary work than others may measure as “less collaborative” than others. That being said, it is important for all organizations to track progress toward a more collaborative enterprise, with the goal of deploying a structured and integrated framework for developing business cases in relation to process improvements for existing and new business processes.


The final attribute of the people and culture component of the Collaboration Framework involves internal and external operational benchmarks to establish a collaboration baseline and measure progress—in addition to usage and value metrics just discussed. Consortium members identified the following questions to consider in addressing this topic:

  • Does the organization regularly survey internal management and employees on the value of collaboration and alignment between collaboration and business strategies?
  • Does the organization regularly survey all internal employees about their readiness and their organization’s readiness to execute and sustain collaboration?
  • Does the organization know where it stands in comparison to external peer groups (e.g., external benchmarks)?

Consortium members agree that the collaboration vision and strategy for an organization should be well communicated and understood by all levels of management and employees within an organization. The use of surveys, polling, and related tools enables an organization to capture this internal benchmark information to verify the value of collaboration and to ensure alignment between collaboration strategies and business strategies. During the early phases of collaboration, sporadic benchmarking occurs and collaboration surveys are executed in parts of the organization. In later phases, surveys to gauge awareness of collaboration value and alignment to existing and emerging business processes should be conducted regularly.

To execute and sustain collaboration at both the individual and organizational levels, a measure of collaboration readiness should be captured to establish a baseline. Once this baseline is created, organizational gaps can be identified when compared against the attributes of the Collaboration Framework. To cross the collaboration chasm and advance into the performance phase and beyond, a systematic collaboration readiness assessment may be used to identify collaboration opportunities and challenges across the organization. Gaps identified through a more thorough analysis can be documented and a plan developed to address them.

Finally, ad hoc benchmarking with external peers/competitors should be executed in parts of the organization as an initial first step to get a reading on how an organization is doing in comparison with competitors in the industry. In later phases, a systematic benchmarking approach with external peer groups can be used within an organization to further develop the collaboration framework and collaboration ambitions.


Consortium members believe that addressing the people and culture component is critical to capturing the business value of collaboration. The topic generated very interesting exchanges, and even some heated debates. Consortium members made significant progress in furthering their understanding of the role of people and culture, and their work yielded valuable approaches and tools. While progress was significant, much remains to be done, and many Consortium members felt that our effort barely scratched the surface on this very important set of issues.


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