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How can we encourage collaboration?

How good is your company at collaboration? We hear about it so much within the world of Internal Communication, I certainly have constant conversations along these lines with clients.

Today I have a guest post for you by Kate Isichei on collaboration. She’s looked at what it is, how it works and what you need to know.

Back in 2013 I did some research into the language of collaboration which revealed use of the word collaboration demonstrated the need to clearly define what platforms and programmes are intended to achieve and their primary purpose. It was centred around technology and describing their purpose, which is how we talked about it back then.

Six years on, what does collaboration mean in your organisation? Have you overused it? Are employees clear what you mean when you talk about collaboration? I think it’s often misused and has moved to a catch-all term with meanings including working together, conversations and two-way communication, but also to describe enterprise social networks.

In 2014 I wrote about the notion: “Everything that’s not shared gets lost” and still believe that.

It’s particularly important if you think about knowledge management. I’m going to be a guest speaker at the Institute of Internal Communication’s Masters in Internal Communication Management course again in March 2019, where I’ll be talking about knowledge management and collaboration inside organisations. (If you’re thinking about doing the course from September 2019, registration is now open).

Kate is a Communications Consultant specialising in Internal Communications, Collaboration and the use of Digital Channels to facilitate Employee Engagement and runs Where to Look Communications. You can find her on LinkedIn.

I’ll hand you over…

How can we encourage collaboration?

Collaboration within teams, across business units and geographies fuels engagement.  Why? Because engagement craves collaboration and collaboration is born of communication.  The same could be said in reverse.

Which came first? Collaboration or communication?

The elements of corporate collaboration are based on the simple philosophy that all employees are better off sharing their knowledge through building relationships. In turn, those relationships create a solid base on which to build a highly engaged organisation.

These are the basic tenets which underpin Knowledge Management. Managing the knowledge that resides within individuals, in organisations, for the greater good.

Take the example of Vicky Smith (fictional character), in the IT department. Vicky is the only one who knows how to get xx app to work.  It’s supposed to work in one way but it doesn’t and Vicky is the only one who can make it do what it’s supposed to do. What if Vicky were to fall ill or have an accident (God forbid)? Where would that leave the fictional organisation she works for? Up the creek without a paddle presumably?

Information power

Does Vicky enjoy being the only one who knows how to work the app?  Possibly, as it means she has information power and this power gives Vicky some leverage in the business.  Then again, perhaps Vicky doesn’t like being the only one in possession of this knowledge.  Perhaps she’s tried to teach her peers but they’d rather not share the responsibility.

This is all well and good, but effective and meaningful collaboration could make all the difference to Vicky and her colleagues.

How to democratise knowledge sharing

How can we ensure that knowledge sharing is democratised?  By providing a social collaboration tool like Chatter (SF), Workplace (FB) or Teams (MS)?  There are too many to mention here, but you get the idea.

Does technology facilitate collaboration or does the culture of an organisation create an environment conducive to effortless and stress free discussion and information sharing?

In my 18 years in communications, I have worked for many multinational organisations. Some have been better than others at creating an environment that made collaborating somewhat straightforward.  However, all have suffered from culture blockers that also made collaborating harder than it needed to be.

Why, you might ask?  Well, I think there are several reasons for this:

  1. The desire to retain information and knowledge power
  2. The organisation’s reward systems support information and knowledge power
  3. The organisation’s reward systems support individualism
  4. The organisation punishes collaborative behaviours

There are many more reasons why this situation might come about.  Most, if not all, will point to a negative culture that doesn’t value a collective approach to problem solving.

Many studies have proven that interdependence is the ideal state of being, from both a personal and business perspective.

Indeed, Stephen Covey’s seminal book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, stresses time and time again that Habit 1 – ‘Be Proactive’ – depends on individuals adopting interdependence above all else in all that they do.

In conclusion, it would be worth considering possible remedies to this age-old quandary and some are already alluded in the above causes.

  1. Set up reward systems that support sharing knowledge
  2. Set annual performance targets around collaborative behaviours
  3. Encompass collaboration in organisational values
  4. Create a culture of collective problem solving
  5. Create recognition programs for collaboration

When all is said and done, it can be tempting to apply a band aid to organisations which do not recognise and favour collaborative working styles. But it is a combination of many elements, including the culture, recruitment process, values and behaviours which will have a positive, or negative, effect on collaboration.

It will take time and effort to transition from one state to another.

Post author: Kate Isichei.

Thank you Kate, what do you think about what you’ve read? As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.


First published on the All Things IC blog 29 January 2019.

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