Isolated decisions, work duplication, reduced speed. These are just some of the limitations of traditional top-down silos. Organizations often address these limitations by deploying matrix-like reporting structures and embracing flexible ways of organizing people, such as aligning individuals from different spheres with different expertise to work together to achieve a common goal.
To support these cross-functional teams and alleviate the emergence of new silos created by members’ differences in knowledge, geographic location, and even goals, organizations are deploying collaboration platforms and tools. In the Spring 2021 issue of MITSloan Management Review, Paul Leonardi suggested that to better understand how collaboration platforms support these individuals, it helps to think of two different types of collaborators: regular and sporadic. Digital collaboration platforms play a different, but complementary, role for each one.
Regular collaborators are a group of individuals that know each other relatively well and interact on a daily basis, but in many cases they are geographically dispersed. Members of a cross-functional team usually do not have the same level of knowledge and know-how about all aspects of the project. Some will require more time, context and information to fully understand the contribution being asked from them.
To keep all regular collaborators on the same page, the collaboration platform must show everyone all activities of the work stream. Having complete visibility helps regular collaborators quickly extract the context in which the different interactions occurred, follow the decision-making logic, and establish common understanding in order to contribute toward the set goals.
Project management tools are a key value of collaboration platforms. They formalize and orchestrate projects, activities and processes. They create real time visibility and traceability. But they are not enough. Collaboration platforms are what is truly needed to align all regular collaborators, as they include social collaboration tools that capture interactions in the context of content, data and involved parties. Without a platform, these interactions are processed and locked in separate systems – such as email and chat tools – making it difficult for all team members to stay aligned on processes, tasks and project plans, inevitably forcing them to spend time and energy trying to get the full picture, instead of working on their part of the project.. The bottom line: collaboration platforms play a critical facilitator role for regular collaborators.
On the other side of the spectrum are sporadic collaborators, workers who do not know each other well and interact infrequently. Sporadic collaborators can be individuals with a similar position, but in different teams or business units. What sporadic collaborators have in common is that, unbeknownst to them, they often work on similar problems and may have knowledge and know-how applicable to one another’s projects.
Collaboration platforms can hold the key to helping connect such insular groups of workers. They can facilitate the discovery or broadcast knowledge and know-how across the organization. Further, a collaboration platform acts as a focal point for all people interested in a particular topic across an enterprise and can function as a living repository that makes it easy to leverage and apply learnings across different teams. By offering the capability to host interactive forums or communities and through powerful search capabilities, collaboration platforms help individuals identify a body of expertise across the enterprise and instantly connect with the right sporadic collaborators.
Access to a body of knowledge and know-how across the organizations can not only reduce duplicate work but increase productivity and lower costs by reusing existing methods to solve problems. This also brings the additional benefit of making employees feel more connected to the organization and be inspired by their colleague’s innovation and excellence.
A collaboration platform helps regular and sporadic collaborators in different, but complementary ways. It helps regular collaborators more effectively carry out work as a single unit by tightening working relationships between the different members of the team, and tracking in real-time all interactions in the context of the processes, the content, the data and the involved parties. It keeps collaboration focused and fluid.
For sporadic collaborators, a collaboration platform offers the ability to broadcast and discover knowledge and know-how disseminated across the enterprise. It sheds light on who knows what and who knows whom, encouraging the exchange of ideas and thoughts and facilitating the reuse of past learnings and experiences.