Most organizations are not generating the value from IT investments that they could be. Recently the Harvard Business Review reported that “companies that manage their IT investments most successfully generate returns that are as much as 40% higher than those of their competitors.”
While a number of factors distinguish these top-performing companies, the most important is having the IT and Business organizations work energetically and collaboratively with one another.
Collaboration is the “secret sauce” that enables teams to come up with innovative new products or creative, buzz-worthy marketing campaigns. But people can also collaborate creatively around a seemingly mundane project — like the selection of a new accounting package — and harness that energy to transform the way in which an organization does business.
Achieving true collaboration — where the whole is more than the sum of the parts — is difficult. People have to set aside their egos, trust one another, and share their expertise willingly. In a virtual workplace, collaboration can be all the more difficult to attain, especially when team members work for different organizations, are essentially strangers to one another, and have different professional backgrounds.
Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned that can help achieve collaboration when making IT decisions
1. Don’t be afraid of social media.
People default to collaborating with others who are similar to them. So how, then, do you get dissimilar people to collaborate? The trick is to find the common ground between such individuals, and social media — blogs, wikis, enterprise collaboration tools, etc. — can really help this. Many managers have been fearful of using social media beyond marketing purposes. But companies that have begun to use social media for internal purposes are starting to reap the benefits.
MIT reported in their Sloan Management Review that the chipmaker Xilinx has reported a ~25% increase in engineer productivity thanks to social media tools that encourage and enable employee collaborative activities. Employees could, for example, maintain wikis or documents that help share best practices and workarounds for particular problems. The open source community routinely uses such approaches to spread knowledge of programming tricks and tips.
2. Train for collaboration.
Many skills are difficult to train and develop. Some experts, for example, contend that leadership is more nature than nurture. Not so with collaboration. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ White Paper “How to drive innovation and business growth” discusses how they had great success in training employees to collaborate by targeting communication skills, emotional intelligence, teamwork, and networking.
3. Have role clarity but task uncertainty.
Many managers believe that teams collaborate best when the roles of members are flexible but the group has a clear idea of how to get from A to B. But the reverse is actually true — collaboration increases when people have clearly defined roles but are uncertain about how to achieve the team’s goals. The uncertainty encourages everyone to collaborate and think more creatively about different ways in which to fulfill the group’s mission.
Getting teams to work together is essential for bringing in projects on time and under budget. But going beyond that and getting teams to collaborate is when the real magic occurs. Think of how small, independent films often surpass the creativity and quality of big-budget offerings from Hollywood. Such successful collaborations don’t happen only on movie sets; they can occur in virtual environments too. The trick is to pro-actively remove the barriers to collaboration. Only then will the team have a chance for true magic to flourish.