“We need a tool for collaboration!”

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard this phrase, I could take that well-earned trip to Australia. Still, it's clear from my conversations that there is this belief that a “collaboration tool” will suddenly connect a workforce in new and exciting ways. The reality is actually so much more complex than that.

Take a look back

History has produced a long and innovation-rich catalog of collaboration tools. In 1856 we saw the invention of what was arguably the most transformative collaboration technology: the telephone. Distance ceased to matter and real-time interaction grew. Then digital collaboration started life with the advent of the personal computer in 1950s and the technical ability to combine video and audio in a single medium in the '40s. Going mobile has only extended these concepts as collaborative technology continues to grow and develop.

Our current reality

But the reality is that these tools – like any solution – can create value or disappointment. Which result you achieve will come down to how us humans approach digital collaboration. Because technology doesn’t collaborate. People collaborate.

So, how can you apply that great human mind of yours to digital collaboration technology? By doing these two things.

1. Give collaboration tools a job to do

Collaboration technology isn’t THE solution. It’s a tool. Tools help make jobs easier. Too often, the success of a technology solution is measured in terms of implementation time or similar “get started” metrics but installing a new solution in a day hardly guarantees value to the business.

Instead, clearly and intentionally define the job(s) that collaboration tool is going to help with. Will it expedite a process? Will it connect experts with knowledge seekers? The jobs that you can articulate from the beginning will be source of its measures of success. Whatever goal you articulate; decide from the get-go how you can demonstrate that the tool actually delivered on it.

2. Ensure human intervention

Remember the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink?” Well, you can implement a collaboration tool but you can’t make people connect. You can, however, put policies and frameworks in place that encourage collaboration and foster connections.

Studies have shown that simply “seeing” a person increases likability and rapport. (Nerd note: this is called the Mere Exposure Effect.) Perhaps there is an opportunity to use this science in collaboration by having everyone use pictures of themselves on their profiles. What other scientific findings could we use to encourage collaboration?

Are there trend-setters and leaders in your organization that could champion your collaboration technology? Leverage these people by having them start conversations and share valuable knowledge via the tool to draw in the rest of the company.

In short, you can’t just plug in a tool and hope your employees will drink it up (well, you get what I mean). You need a strategy to make it accessible, appealing and valuable – a strategy that requires human intervention.

Getting results

Is all of this worth the effort? Yes. Absolutely. Organizations see double digit improvements in satisfaction and perceptions of company caring when collaboration tools are used in the enterprise. Just remember that the collaboration tool isn’t an answer on its own, but with the right human intervention we can leverage it to work more effectively whether we are in the office or in Australia. G’day mates!


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