Where I stand about enterprise collaboration
As a technical writer and content strategist, I’ve become good with collaboration practices and the tools. While finishing my last job, I came to see how my perceptions of collaboration are changing. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Then again it might be all the time alone I’m getting during my current self-isolation because of COVID-19.
Here are some of my recent perceptions:
- Collaboration at its best is synchronous and asynchronous: I’ve worked on some very collaborative teams. The teams I’ve been on that have gotten collaboration right were often very asynchronous. Everybody was busy across other projects and proposals. So was I as a writer. It made real-time collaboration challenging. Usually, the team would maximize real-time in-person and chat communications when it was possible to be in synchronous communications.
- Collaboration is transactional, depending on the corporate culture: Over the years, I’ve found myself in corporate cultures, where collaboration was very much transactional. People would respond to questions and requests from people on their team or other teams who had a real or perceived value to them. They gave preference to others seen as capable.
- Collaboration involves some manner of respect: I spent a good part of 2019 collaborating with a team of solution architects on cloud strategy and content. One of the team dynamics that stuck out to me was how the team members treated me and others with respect. In a quickly evolving subject of cloud computing, the team members all had their areas of authority, which everybody respected.
- Teams need to audit their collaboration often and judiciously: I went through a period when meetings become “work sessions.” Seeing smart people get in front of a whiteboard to hash out ideas is one of the greatest joys of my work. Unfortunately, these sessions attract “co-workers” in it for the participation trophy because they have nothing substantive to add to the project. It’s something teams have to watch out for ensuring they’re firing on all cylinders.
- Flat hierarchies foster collaboration: Organizations with a flat hierarchy are best for collaboration in most cases. I say most cases because a flat hierarchy only works for collaboration if everybody on the team is rowing in the same direction towards the best interests of the customer, project, and organization.
- Too many chiefs = too little collaboration: I’ve been on some of the most collaborative teams where there was a mix of directors, managers, and worker bees. The team members all trusted one another, and there was a spoken or implied understanding of the skills and experience team members brought to the table, including me, as the technical writer. I’ve also been on teams that had too many managers where it sounded like management in stereo. The latter scenario made information exchange more challenging because the chiefs meant much overhead in status meetings where they each needed to be heard. Everybody was also looking over my shoulder to get their participation trophy for the project.
- Delegation is not collaboration: I got stuck working with somebody once who was a newly minted manager. This person thought their only job was giving orders to people. They somehow started calling delegation collaboration. This new manager’s arrogance and lack of experience meant they had nothing to offer we couldn’t find among other team members. They especially weren’t seen as a contributor by team members the doing the work. This new manager started to find themselves being left out of the project team’s moves and decisions.
- Waxing poetically about metadata and tagging is a sign: It’s a sign the person or persons isn’t doing any real work. If you find yourself on a team where somebody is waxing poetically about metadata and tagging of your SharePoint site, be suspect to their contributions to the overall project. It’s even more illuminating when the search doesn’t work on your organization’s SharePoint farm, so users can’t search for documents effectively anyway.
- Collaboration platforms work for the team. The team doesn’t work for the platform: Microsoft SharePoint is a much-maligned collaboration platform. What people forget is that people are behind the platform. Poor execution and user experience mean people are at fault for the platform woes, and I’m not talking about Microsoft programmers either.
- Ultimately, collaboration is about trust: In 2019, I came to see that trust is at the heart of collaboration. It’s something I’ve always known but never admitted to myself. Two team members can’t collaborate unless they trust each other. If I can’t presume to hand things off to you for completion, then we can’t collaborate. If a team member thinks another team member is a piece of s**t, it’s hard for them to collaborate.
The longer I’ve been in content development, the more I see the importance of collaboration. I also see how and why organizations fail at it so miserably.
Hi! I’m Will Kelly. My career has given me the opportunity to write about cloud computing, DevOps, enterprise mobility, enterprise collaboration, project management, and related topics for publications, corporations, and government agencies. My focus is on white papers, marketing collateral, case studies, and thought leadership content. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.