The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

The New Collaboration

So much collaboration used to happen around “water cooler conversations.”  These may have been informal lunches, chats in the halls, and even chats next to the water cooler in the lunch room.  However, as the workforce increasingly works from home and scheduled conference calls limit the possibilities of impromptu meetings, the opportunities to collaborate are also diminishing.  In this workforce 2.0 world, we need to find a web 2.0 replacement for collaboration.

While it was never in anyone’s job to ensure that these informal conversations were taking place, it was always in the back of management’s head that some of the best ideas were coming from people getting together informally.  This would preclude any formal meeting time, e-mail conversations, and even spontaneous calls for help over the phone lines.  These conversations were always unstructured and held between people who were engaged with their work and trying to solve complex problems in better ways.  Like most engaged people, these problems stayed in our minds and when we talked to our peers when we met, the problems unavoidably reappeared as a topic of interest to both or more of us.

Today, many of our organizations have been slow to adopt technologies that allow us to have these conversations even as we work from home or outside of the office.  We’ve implemented knowledgebase, but these don’t facilitate conversations.  Discussion boards and blogs have been around the internet for years, but are still being debated in the workplace.  As we go global, we need better ways for our employees to informally talk to each other, not only to collaborate, but also to retain a sense of community.

5 comments

  1. I would say that the collaboration tool of choice is…instant messenger.

    I now do more talking on IM and e-mail then on the phone outside of conference calls/meetings. So much collaboration on IM, in fact, that it serves as a distraction.

    IM is an instantaneous water cooler, surrounded by emoticons…

  2. Excellent post. Informal conversations have much value for businesses but they’re less and less likely as more and more of us work apart from “co-workers.” These need to be conversations and that means at least voice. Research on computer-mediated communication tells us that email or text message exchanges are different.

  3. Jeff Hofmann /

    Interesting thought you bring up my feeling is water cooler conversations are still occurring just not in the same location. The water cooler now is a coffee house or the likes where two workers can meet off site and discuss openly about challenges needing solutions. I am more in the belief our work environment has changed and we need more mentors to help the younger work force to understand there is more to gain by knowing not just your “world” but others as they all eventually intersect in the working world.

    Email and IM are great tools for quick answers but do not take place of human interaction unless we all communicate at the same level .

  4. So..I think IM and email are more about “conversation” rather than collaboration and don’t really fit the bill. Where are the lessons learned or knowledge gained stored..in Outlook? In Yahoo Messenger? How does someone get access to them.? I have actually saved transcripts of IMs but haven’t really shared them with anyone.

    I also don’t think that most, if any, “knowledge management” applications in a collaborative environment are the answer either.

    For two simple reasons (this is in exclusion of research scientists)…first, they usually require something “extra” to be done by the user and no one likes extra work. And second, too many people don’t like to share knowledge because that’s how people get raises/get ahead…by being better/smarter than the cubizen next to them. Who doesn’t want a raise?

    Full disclosure…I’m anti “year review” when it comes to employee appraisals….unless you like sheep working for you. Real raises and real performers operate outside the yearly review…thing.

    So…for a collaborative application to work…it has to be part of the everyday tasks completed without adding work or if so, then it has to have a direct impact, in a good way, on the individual “donating” the knowledge. Either by being of use later to the “donator” or, if useful to the team, the app gives credit to the donator for all to see….thus easing the the fear of “giving away” knowledge.

    And if attempts at collaborating keep failing…start a Facebook group. :)

    Twenty bucks says you see “Enterprise Facebook” within a year as a SaaS application.

    I just started playing with Facebook a couple of weeks ago..sort of like it. I started a group called “Changing the World” that is set up for users of my applications at my clients to share/discuss/list events/propose ideas with other users both within their company walls and outside. Its new…changing the world takes a little time…so…we’ll see what happens.

    One thing I do know about collaborating in a virtual world (I work from home…all my clients are a plane ride away), is that you have to get out and have some beers with your friends. Besides visits to clients of course, the ERE conferences (Kennedy is starting to have the same effect for me) have become a great time for me to meet face to face with the people I email/IM/talk on the phone with in this industry throughout the year.

    So start virtual…continue with a handshake every now and then. This will make the “collaboration” a little easier. Its weird, actually meeting someone and looking them in the eyes builds trust.

    Like Tony Soprano said about “the business,” its a face to face job….so is Talent Management. If you’re in it…get out of your office and walk the line. Every employee should know your name..and maybe even your face.

  5. I agree, IM is it for instant collaboration – chat groups are easy to setup and they’re great for getting quick mindshare. I even built a remote team using IM, almost exclusively. Understanding these informal collaborative groups is also easier since the communication occurs over the network – instead of in person at the water cooler. This will enable companies to understand how work really gets done – not by org chart, but by who know knows what!

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  2. Disqus Comments - [...] Toevallige, informele ontmoetingen zullen minder voorkomen, waardoor ook een deel van 'water cooler wisdom', zoals de Amerikanen dat noemen, …

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