Enterprise social collaboration has become a business imperative, driven in large part by the role social media has played in changing how we communicate in our everyday lives. However, enterprise social collaboration can represent more than just a change in how an organization communicates, leading to a fundamental change in an organization’s culture.

It is about enabling a more transparent, informed and efficient way of accomplishing basic day-to-day tasks at the workplace. Enterprises need to learn new skills to effectively implement and utilize collaborative social tools in order to achieve business goals. Developing enterprise collaboration is not only about how you set up the architecture from a technology standpoint or the platform you choose; in fact, it’s not even primarily about technology.

An enterprise will be required to make significant organizational changes to encourage appropriate usage and maximize the probability of success in a collaborative environment. The biggest challenge in implementing collaboration is making it “stick.” The ability to overcome the barriers to user adoption makes up the foundation of a successful collaborative initiative.

Barriers to Enterprise Collaboration Adoption

In many organizations, despite the popularity of social media, it may not be immediately obvious how to derive measurable business value from these tools. The incentives to collaborate at work are quite different from those in an employee’s personal life. In order to overcome this barrier, employees need to understand the multiple uses of the new tools and change their overall perception of these tools. Employees need to see the collaboration tools as enablers of business, not just for socializing. Education is critical in helping bring about this change in user perception.  

It cannot entirely be the responsibility of IT to deploy enterprise social collaboration initiatives. Collaboration involves technology that IT teams deploy, but this is only one piece of the puzzle. Promoting user adoption, governing how the applications are used and enabling a new kind of collaboration among employees are all pan-organizational concerns. It is important for the organization to recognize that the collaboration initiative starts far before IT involvement and extends beyond deployment.

In many organizations, there are implicit cultural barriers to sharing and transparency. It becomes difficult to promote collaboration in such an environment, as this requires a change in organizational culture. To promote adoption, management must present a unified front, lead by example, provide clear consistent communication about what is expected and reward employees for helping shift the company into a new collaborative era.

Change Management and Governance are Critical

There are numerous change management techniques involved in adoption, and each is effective in different enterprises. For an enterprise that traditionally relies on a top-down leadership approach, assigning an executive champion can prove to be effective.

As an example, Cisco, the company behind some of the most popular enterprise collaboration tools, implemented top-down change management structures. Nick Earle, vice president of Services for Cisco Europe, created five “councils” to oversee collaboration activities. These champions evangelize the benefits of the collaboration tools to other employees and can also help set goals for adoption across the organization. It is essential to have a group of early adopters to actively evangelize regarding the new initiative. These evangelizers are able to lead their peers by example. While collaboration is about breaking down organizational silos and transforming old ways of doing things, there still must be parameters around what users can do in the collaborative environment. Governance is essential and helps deal with problematic situations such as:

  • What happens if there is an information security breach?
  • Does the organization have a social media policy?
  • Are all employees aware of the policies?
  • Who are the owners of the collaboration channels?

Quick steps to a good governance framework are:

  • Address concerns while developing the collaboration architecture.
  • Balance risk management and employee empowerment.
  • Ensure all users understand the rules.
  • Create a governance committee comprised of senior-level managers who have the authority to make quick decisions.

While there are many non-technological barriers that can affect the effective implementation of collaboration in an enterprise, with the right strategy and proper planning, these barriers can be overcome and an enterprise can reap the benefits of a collaborative platform.