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01/11/2016

The 4 Collaboration Dimensions, Digital Workplace Collaboration Means More Than Documents,Yet when people write about "collaboration," they make a tacit assumption about what form the collaboration takes.

Digital Workplace Collaboration Means More Than Documents

 
moving a boat together
People assume collaboration comes in one shape and size. That's not the case PHOTO: Phil Dolby

It’s tempting to think that a suite of tools like Office 365 or IBM Connections will meet your collaboration needs. 

However, when I run focus groups to explore digital workplace requirements, asking the question “Where do you do your work?” is often revealing. Rarely is the response the intranet or a social network. Sometimes people answer "email," but more often than not the answer is "in a specialist system." 

Lawyers might work in a case management system, researchers in an electronic lab Notebook, developers in Jira and call centers in a customer service platform like Zendesk.

Yet when people write about "collaboration," they make a tacit assumption about what form the collaboration takes. In the SharePoint world it is usually multiple people working on a document, presentation or spreadsheet. In the enterprise social sphere it is closer to conversation, in Yammer or Slack for example. 

But when somebody makes decisions on a workflow request or plans resources for a work schedule, isn’t that collaboration too? 

When evolving our digital workplaces we run the risk of forgetting other forms of collaboration, and focus on just the things that Office 365 does. 

The model below reminds us of the other ways people work together. It’s essential that we factor these other forms of collaboration into our designs if our digital workplaces are to remain coherent.

The 4 Collaboration Dimensions

Two dimensions determine collaboration types: stability and complexity. Stable collaboration can usually be defined as a repeatable process, making it suited to workflow-type systems (so long as it isn’t too complex). If it is new or constantly changing, then less structured forms of collaboration are needed. 

Inevitably this gives us a 2 by 2 matrix (forgive me, I’m a consultant and can’t resist).

4 types of collaboration
Four types of collaboration

 

  1. Ad-hoc interaction: In new situations with low complexity, simple collaboration usually suffices. A phone call, quick meeting or even just a chat over the open-plan partition can do the job. People won't even know that they just used a process. However, this only works when the desired outcome is simple to explain. We’ve all seen this model break down when an email request generates a whole string of “What did you mean exactly?” exchanges.
  2. Embedded process: Well understood outcomes with few options lend themselves to a repetitive process — and make the cost of building it into a workflow system worthwhile. Examples in the digital workplace are HR request forms, facility bookings, rota scheduling and pretty much any kind of checklist. When you get many exceptions though, the complexity goes up. Most workflow tools can’t handle this well. That’s when people resort to email and it gets messy.
  3. Expert process: This is for when the outcomes are well understood and you want a systematic approach, but there's a possibility of exception cases and you require a level of judgement. Examples include surveying, fault diagnosis, insurance underwriting and health and safety assessment. If you take the insurance example, 80 percent of applications might fit the embedded process category and can be fulfilled by junior staff or even automated. Twenty percent will be unusual and need review, for example because there is a medical history or an unusual sport involved. Although the problem is complex, using tools that are too unstructured will lead to errors and a lack of auditability.
  4. Rich collaboration: Sometimes the situation is both complex and novel. Imagine a diagnosis where the symptoms are contradictory, or a set of customer requirements for which no service currently exists. Solving it may require some creative thinking, deep diagnosis, trial and error and even debate over what the requirements might be. Horst Rittel coined the term wicked problems for the most extreme of these. Using too restrictive tools will lead to frustration because the bandwidth of communication is too narrow.

Matching Collaboration Tools to the Job

Once you have a grip on the nature of the collaboration involved, it becomes easier to work out the right tool for the job. 

For example, document-based collaboration can work well for an Expert Process so long as the documents are adapted to the particular need. A safety specialist may have several spreadsheets with built-in macros that calculate risk, for example. This is good, but for a digital workplace to do this at scale requires version control to ensure everyone uses the same macros.

 

What collaboration tool to use, when
What collaboration tool to use, when

 

 

Conversely, Ad-hoc Interaction will feel suppressed if conversations are forced into a workflow system. You can see this in call centers where operators fill in a form, but then use post-its or desk-side conversations to explain everything that didn't fit in the form. Simple task-coordination tools like Trello or Office 365 planner can be enough to ensure things don’t get lost. And if the collaboration becomes systematic, then the task cards can become checklist templates.

Interestingly, checklists can help in several of the quadrants. In his excellent book "The Checklist Manifesto," Atul Gawande talks about pilots using checklists for both routine and emergency situations, such as engine failure. The checklist frees one expert up to focus on the essentials (flying the plane is often recommended) while the other pilot can systematically try to resolve the issue under pressure.

Gawande observed that not every workplace is sympathetic to checklists, with some seeing them as too simplistic. I’ve written before about how collaboration culture matters when it comes to choosing tools, but sometimes specialists collaborate in ways that necessitate different tools than everyone else. 

This can get tricky, because using a different tool will create silos. However, it's preferable to using an inadequate tool for the job. The solution lies not in forcing them into a standard, but in channelling the outcome of their work back into the tool everyone else uses.

Further Reading:

About the Author

Sam Marshall is the owner of ClearBox Consulting and has specialized in intranets and the digital workplace for over 15 years, working with companies such as AstraZeneca, AkzoNobel, Standard Life and BUPA. His current activities focus on intranet and digital workplace strategy, the business side of SharePoint, and the use of social tools for collaboration and internal communication.

 

Michael Polanyi famously wrote that “We know more than we can tell.” By David Hammer, CEO and Founder, Emissary, I founded Emissary to serve those people and the businesses that need their help.

By David Hammer, CEO and Founder, Emissary

At the beginning of 2010, my manager at Google asked if I'd be interested in heading up a team to build out a Demand Side Platform.

“Sure,” I responded. “What's a Demand Side Platform?”

“Go figure it out,” he told me.

I knew it would be no easy task. The concept, a relatively recent one, was still evolving in the nascent programmatic advertising universe. There was nothing to find on the internet to explain it. Worse, nobody at Google seemed to know anything about it, nor did I know anyone outside the company who could help. So I went to conferences, trying to network my way to the answer. There, I was met with hand-wavey, generalist answers from others who clearly were as clueless as I was. Months after I started my research, answers remained incomplete at best.

Eventually (and luckily for me), Google acquired Invite Media, which employed some of the savviest folks I'd ever meet in the ad tech world. It was their insights that laid the foundation for our product. Still, I was left with a nagging question: Why was what I had gone through so difficult? My problem had a solution and some people knew what it was. Why hadn't I been able to find them?

Three years later, having acquired some useful knowledge and with Doubleclick Bid Manager on track to becoming a multi-billion-dollar product, I left Google to strike out on my own. But to where? Once again something nagged at me: I knew all this stuff about Google, about ad tech, about product management, but most of it wasn't germane to my day-to-day focus on starting a company. I was sure it would be useful to someone, but who?

Occasionally, of course, an opportunity to share presented itself. A venture capitalist wanted me to talk to a portfolio company about entering the DSP space. A friend of a friend picked my brain about an idea he was working on. I met with a distant cousin who wanted a job at Google. Each time I was happy to oblige, even though I had no intention of becoming a consultant or anything like one.

These conversations, however, actually taught me a few things.

First, what seemed really simple to me was totally inscrutable to others. I was continuously amazed to discover that what I had to offer was of such value—it all was so basic to me. I didn't need to give detailed breakdowns of reorgs or explain the millisecond-level mechanics of real-time bidding; even top-line explanations provided sufficient detail to help those I spoke to re-architect their strategy.

Second, it felt incredibly rewarding to be so useful. I walked away from each conversation with a sense of fulfillment that I had rarely felt in my professional life. We're all familiar with the business-world paradox in which tons of exertion has a way of yielding only incremental changes. Now, though, it was clear that I was really moving the needle. What's more, these meetings allowed me to feel a casual sense of mastery that was rare in my day-to-day at Google.

Third, I couldn't be the only one who valued these opportunities. Looking around, I was struck by the fact that I was not alone in possessing untapped, invaluable knowledge. What we have learned just from working in our jobs day to day and year to year—the way a boss automatically ignores anyone who interrupts her, or how a single engineer can derail an entire project—is hidden treasure. To the person who is looking for it, of course.

Michael Polanyi famously wrote that “We know more than we can tell.” It's not true of everyone—certain “thought leaders” seem to quite comfortable telling much more than they know. But for every consultant actively drumming up attention and business, there are ten regular people who know just as much—and would be happy to share it, if only someone would ask.

  I founded Emissary to serve those people and the businesses that need their help.Every organization hungers for access to information that lives beyond their walls, but they don't know how to get it. Likewise, millions of people have valuable knowledge that they're not doing anything with. Our mission is to connect the two. We want to transform the way the world works by empowering people to share their experience.

We started by building an amazing community of people who have deep, tacit knowledge of the organizations they've worked at. We screen these Emissaries by hand and interview them extensively; more than 5,000 have joined our platform to date.

On top of that, we've created a scaled technology platform that's able to match them to the sales organizations that demand their insight, and have built communications channels to facilitate their relationships.

We've been operating quietly for the past year and a half, working with a number of sales organizations of all sizes to ensure we've cracked the code of how to reliably deliver game-changing Emissaries to clients. We're now proud to announce we've raised more than $10 million in Series A funding from an array of spectacular investors, with G20 Ventures and Canaan Partners at the forefront, and we're excited to share what we've learned with the larger world.

25/10/2016

« Et pourquoi pas une intelligence économique européenne ? »On donne juste nos idées. Il est possible de choisir Les espaces FranceWebAsso, Portails et outils d'échanges, de collaboration et de travail.

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