I follow enterprise collaboration both as a long time technical writer in the IT industry and as somebody who has written about collaboration platforms over the years for online publications.
It can be too easy to wreck collaboration in my mind. I’ve seen it many times happen during my career, giving me strong beliefs about collaborative cultures and technologies.
1. Collaboration takes at least 2
I’ve worked with people in the past who thought that collaboration was a coworker doing something for them. These people had a lot of dependencies on other team members. The team never seemed to depend on these sorts of people much.
It’s not to say you shouldn’t help your coworker. Working with this type of person made me remember my best collaborations. The common theme in those collaborations was a complementary exchange back and forth of information, input, and insights that benefited the project, team, and the collaborators themselves.
It’s not to say that non-technical people are at a disadvantage with collaboration inside technology organizations. They need to pony up from their own unique strengths.
In the past, I’ve said that collaboration can be transactional depending on the organizational culture. Take, for example, the time-strapped organization that’s not well organized. It’s easier to get help from somebody in such cultures if you can help them towards their project goals.
2. Collaboration platforms work for the team (not vice versa)
I’ve come across awful excuses for collaboration platforms and processes during my years as a technical writer. Sometimes, these collaboration tools were downright business prevention. Users kept using email for collaboration or resorted to sundry acts of Shadow IT to collaborate on files.
Microsoft SharePoint is a prime example where users sometimes have to work for the tool. Think of the times you’ve encountered sluggish performance, Draconian security policies, and poor user experience (UX) that added up to you and your team working around SharePoint to get your job done. No team should have to lose time due to SharePoint issues. For example, I can remember having to use my personal OneDrive account on a contract because of my client couldn’t get access to their SharePoint site for me as a contractor. There were other cases where I had to use my personal Dropbox to collaborate on files.
3. Collaboration at its best means a comfort zone
Looking at some of my best collaborations past and present, I see a comfort zone between coworkers and teams as integral to collaboration success. There needs to be a level of trust and respect amongst team members to make collaboration efforts fruitful.
Working a technical writer — an individual contributor at that — I have to find a comfort zone between me and the subject matter expert (SME) to get the information I need to write. Most often, this means writing a document draft using as many source materials as I can find. I then go to them to the SME to review the draft and patch any gaps.
For my article writing, it means having positive relationships with editors and PR people whom I’ve never met face-to-face or even over video chat. Such trust and a comfort zone come from responding to requests, clear and concise communications, and doing right by the article amongst other factors.
4. Collaboration is about culture before technology
I’ve written in the past about collaboration being about culture before technology. My recent writing about DevOps continues to drive home that point for me.
Full confession, I’m a total collaboration tool geek about SharePoint, Atlassian Confluence, Microsoft Teams, and other tools. Collaboration is a topic I miss writing about, yet I’m the first to admit that none of these technologies can fix a culture that isn’t collaborative.
5. Every employee needs to own collaboration
I often find that enterprises neglect that everybody needs to be an owner in collaborative environments. At a top-level, it means decentralizing the control of your internal collaboration sites to project teams. Major collaboration platforms have the rights settings that can enable you to open up privileges to users without harming overall compliance.
Managing collaboration platforms needs to become part of the team DNA and made easy so it works in the background. For example, a technical writer has a big role to play in SharePoint environments. They should know their document library. They can play that role at the team level. Business analysts can and should play a similar role. Project managers should be able to speak to their schedules and related project artifacts.
The technologies and culture that power collaboration still fascinates me to this day. I’ve seen so many enterprise collaboration initiatives tank over my career. The initiatives I saw become successful were most often grassroots happening at the project team level.
My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve written for corporations and technology publications about such topics as cloud computing, DevOps, and enterprise mobility. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly