The biggest challenge of getting employees to work together online isn't a technological problem - it's a cultural and organisational one.
Collaboration, suddenly, is cool. The promise is enticing: get employees working together online to solve problems faster and become more responsive to customer needs. Perhaps save on travel and communications costs in the process.
"Collaboration has definitely become one of the big buzzwords for 2001," says Bard Salmon, president of RealityWave, a Massachusetts-based company that makes software to facilitate the sharing of large engineering drawings and images of other 3-D objects over the Net. "C-level executives seem to just want to check the box off and say: Â'Yeah, we're collaborating.'" Almost any tool that supports information sharing inside and outside a company's walls has the potential to deliver value. Collaborative tools on the market today make it easy to coordinate large groups by enabling members to post questions, work jointly on documents, schedule meetings and track progress toward goals. But not every company is positioned to take advantage of the tools. The danger for many is overspending on collaborative technologies without making the cultural and organisational adjustments necessary to derive any benefit from them.
"There's too much emphasis on what the tools can do and not enough emphasis on the people who use the tools," says Will Calmas, a psychologist who founded the consultancy Calmas Associates in Boston. "Collaboration software just won't work if you don't have a corporation that encourages people to work together."
That's a long leap for many companies where individuals are rewarded for controlling knowledge and highlighting their own achievements, not for sharing knowledge and focusing on team accomplishments.
It's impossible to prescribe a specific series of adjustments that will transform a company's culture from individually oriented to collaborative. That's as much of a challenge as giving Van Gogh, Matisse and Rembrandt instructions on how to paint a house together and arrive at a unified aesthetic.
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