The dictionary definition of collaboration in relation to business is the situation of people working together to achieve something. Sounds simple! But whether you’re looking to collaborate within a team, department, organisation, or between several different organisations, true collaborative working can be quite a challenge. Why is it sometimes so difficult? What are the barriers we put in the way of successful collaboration and what can we do to overcome them?
In this blog, Liz Copeland, Head of Customer Insight and Engagement, Placecube explores 5 common collaboration challenges that businesses face and offers 5 tips to tackle them head on…
What are the issues?
1. “I don’t have time”
Lack of time is one of the most common reasons people give for not sharing knowledge and collaborating. Many of us already work long hours to get our jobs done, so getting involved in collaborative work can seem like an added extra on top of our already heavy workloads. Joining communities of practice, working on joint projects and sharing experiences and learning can often be seen as something to be done on top of the day job, as a voluntary activity, rather than being integral to it, so it tends to be the first thing to suffer when there are other pressures.
2. “I’m not allowed”
A lack of trust in how people spend their time can be a problem in some organisations. For example, getting involved with online communities of practice might not be seen as ‘proper work’. People feel concerned that colleagues - or worse, their boss - might find out and think they aren’t really working. Knowledge sharing becomes like a covert operation and not something that is openly seen as a good use of time and valuable to the organisation.
3. “I don’t have the right technology”
People still don’t have the technology they need. The Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we work and forced many organisations to upgrade the technology their employees have access to. Many who, prior to the pandemic, would not have been able to take part in online meetings and conferences, or work remotely are now able to do these things easily. This means that many more people have access to the reliable technology they need to get involved in collaborative working. However, it can be difficult to find collaborative spaces when working with different organisations, because of access controls and different IT set ups. Despite the great progress, a lack of suitable collaboration technology at an affordable cost still presents a problem.
4. “I keep my cards close to my chest”
Fear of losing status and power is a major barrier to success in collaboration. There’s a bit of tricky politics in most organisations and if people feel their position is threatened in some way, particularly if they’ve been there a while, there could be a tendency to hold on fast to what they know rather than share their wisdom voluntarily with others. There’s a feeling that if they share their knowledge and it becomes widely known, they will no longer be the go-to expert and their standing will become diminished.
5. “No one shares anything round here”
At the end of the day, if your organisation doesn’t have a culture of learning and sharing, it’s likely that you won’t be doing much collaboration. You probably work in silos, you probably don’t communicate very well - either sideways between departments or up and down the organisation - and you probably don’t spend time learning from each other internally, or externally from other organisations. It means that you probably end up duplicating effort, you’re quite inefficient and collaboration is not in your organisational psyche.
So, what’s the answer?
Well, there’s no one size fits all. How you overcome your personal and organisational collaboration challenges will depend on your role, your organisation, your willingness to deal with issues and most importantly what your knowledge sharing and collaboration needs are.
Hopefully, the following tips point you in the right direction and can help you get started…
TIP 1: A little time makes a big difference
Where collaboration is concerned, putting in a small amount of time can reap rewards. Even diarising 10 minutes a day, or half an hour a week can be a great start. Sharing some useful links with colleagues, asking for advice in a discussion forum, sharing some helpful project experience with others, or supporting a new colleague by signposting them to useful information are all quick and easy and you may end up gaining a lot back just from that small investment of time.
TIP 2: A little trust goes a long way
The best way to counteract suspicion around how you spend your time is to be open and transparent about it. Honesty about how collaborative working and knowledge sharing can support and improve projects you’re working on is a good start. Building trust is an important part of making any kind of collaboration a success.
TIP 3: A little ‘outside of the box’ thinking can sometimes help
Focusing on the technology is usually not the answer. Yes, it’s an enabler for collaboration, but it’s not the thing that will make the difference. It’s people, their knowledge and how they work together that will ultimately determine whether collaboration works or not. When bringing people together physically is challenging and IT systems are proving to be a blocker, look at secure technology that’s available via the web regardless of in-house software. For example, Placecube’s Digital Place for Communities offers a secure knowledge exchange and collaboration platform to support cross-organisation working.
TIP 4: Shared experiences can bring benefit
When it comes to collaboration, the old adage, “knowledge is power” should be more suitably amended to, “sharing knowledge is power”. Even for those who are subject matter experts, there is always more to learn. By sharing ideas and experiences, their openness builds trust with other team or group members, encouraging them to exchange learning too and allowing project or community objectives to be met.
TIP 5: The change starts with me
There’s plenty that organisations can do to develop a more collaborative culture, from establishing open leadership styles and improving two-way communication and information sharing, to designing more collaborative projects and embedding knowledge sharing and feedback into every day working. But if your organisation is not doing it, maybe you can start to drive the change. For example, by sharing your own experiences and encouraging others to do the same, you begin to develop a collaborative culture around you.
Placecube has been supporting public sector organisations and communities to share knowledge and collaborate for many years. If you identify with any of these collaboration challenges and you think we might be able to help, we’d love to hear from you. Have a look at Digital Place for Communities or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.