Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Investing in Collaboration

I attended "The Art of Collaboration" yesterday at the Commonwealth Club.  Stewart Levine was an intelligent and witty presenter on the importance of collaboration skills in the workplace.  I think the dude should teach at the Learning Annex but he's probably got a full calendar working with Resolution Works and Mobile Business Academy.  I learned enough about his themes to want to read his book Getting to Resolution because I must apply financial metrics to collaboration.

The one point Mr. Levine made that jumped out at me was that organizations now hire people for their emotional intelligence (EI).  I can only assume he had senior management positions in mind where skills in managing people matter more than technical competence.  I am absolutely certain that EI does not matter at all in low skill, entry-level jobs like the ones I held before becoming self-employed.  Some level of experience is still a primary requirement to obtain even the lowest position in a white collar professional career.  No amount of EI can replace entry-level skill but EI doesn't matter when working with low skill idiots.  I really liked Mr. Levine's advice on dealing with sociopaths:  Get away from them.

Collaboration has tons of literature supporting different approaches throughout history.  I am more immediately concerned with determining whether managers can measure collaboration's ROI.  The Wikipedia articles I like to reference feed a non-profit collaborative platform.  Macrowikinomics extends the original Wikinomics model into a for-profit ecosystem.  Understanding this framework is key to determining where to make effective investments in something billed as a "collaboration" enhancement.

Investing in collaboration IMHO poses two challenges.  The first is how to incentivize collaboration with HR policy.  The second is how to track collaboration's results.  Solving those two challenges requires a knowledge management (KM) approach integrating two different families of enterprise-wide metrics.  Incentivizing people to work together means deploying ERP modules that mine email traffic for expert references and plotting those experts' recorded interactions.  Measuring results means scoring the products of group work by market share growth, costs saved, and other bottom-line KPIs.  This gets complicated and KM people will have to speak the IT department's Cloudonomics language.

The ERP cost of monitoring collaboration is an investment.  A Google search of "collaboration ROI" reveals plenty of expert thinking on how such an investment pays off.  This Information Week article from 2011 discovered several studies of how collaboration tools impacted enterprise productivity.  Cisco has developed a serious framework breaking down the ROI of collaboration, referencing Ron Ricci's and Carl Wiese's The Collaboration Imperative.  Carl Wiese also authored Cisco's 2010 white paper, "The Return on Collaboration."  It's all terrific theory, but frankly I've had some experience with one of Cisco's collaboration products called Cisco WebEx.  Solving frequent video and audio disruptions would definitely enhance collaboration.

I do not enjoy collaborating with other humans.  I usually have to decelerate my thinking cycle, speak more slowly, and use simpler concepts than I would if I were working alone.  One major drawback to collaboration is its tendency to produce a suboptimal result when superior performers' work is averaged down to a lowest common denominator acceptable to all.  Modern techniques in data analysis and knowledge management are supposed to alleviate this tendency.  They may work best when a manager with high EI is in charge of getting the most out of people.  Proving a collaboration ROI means connecting the dots between costs of systems deployed to track human interaction and the results of such group work in financial KPIs.  Get to work, KM professionals.  Your product managers need those collaborative tools.