I've lost count of how many years I've been dipping my toe into the collaboration waters. Certainly, it goes back at least to Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) thirty years ago. By 1988 this was formalised into a time/space grid, so that you had remote/colocated on one axis and synchronous/asynchronous on the other. Not a bad way to characterise many of the collaboration and social tools that abound today.
I mention all this because Agile Elephant's David Terrar invited me to a Future of Collaboration Conference triggered, in part, by the opportunities created by the convergence of cloud, social and mobile technologies. (To my mind, this equates to a transformation in reach and convenience.) Each speaker had ten minutes or so to share their vision. This was followed by a Q&A session and networking. The audience was also made up of industry people, so I expected the bullshit factor to be low. And it was.
Given my background, I wondered what I would learn. Let me list the participants and their roles, and then I'll tell you what I ended up thinking. I'll spare you the blow-by-blow details.
David Terrar chaired the event.
Questioners (apart from David Terrar and me):
Baker Tilly, chartered accountants and business advisers, provided the accommodation and refreshments. (Lovely, thank you).
The first thing I noticed was the lack of evangelism, thank goodness. Quite often you turn up at these events and they're more like a religious revival meeting than a pragmatic look at business needs and applications. Okay – one chap said work should be fun, but he got a slight ribbing for that from some of the others. Work could become pleasant, fulfilling or rewarding maybe, but not fun. God forbid. (Mind you I quite often have fun when running training workshops, so I have some sympathy with his point of view.)
While 'email' and 'social' can be good in the right context, neither is much cop as a sole collaboration strategy. In fact two people branded email 'the enemy' of collaboration and another branded social on its own as 'a waste of time'.
Previous events have banged on about the need to change a company's culture or boasted of coming 'disruption'. Utterly unhelpful. This isn't how stuff gets done. Far better to introduce collaboration tools which fit business needs and, if possible, integrate it with what exists. Do this in a few key areas (with board level support, of course) and things start to catch on as others see (or are told about) the business benefits of these new ways of working.
Social – people communicating openly and freely (with business intent, of course) – isn't going to happen without trust and that doesn't come without knowing each other (usually through at least one face-to-face meeting, but relationships can form through voice, video and even, dare I say, email).
As collaboration, then social, activity spreads vertically and horizontally through an organisation, culture change will follow. When it extends beyond the company boundaries to partners and customers, it will alter the way the organisation listens, responds and collaborates. Silos will be breached and individuals will become more aligned and harmonised with business drivers.
Everyone – the company, the workforce, partners, customers and prospects will benefit. That's the promise. And it sounds good to me.
And now I'd better go, before I'm accused of being an evangelist.