On the “fluffiness” of collaboration, the challenges of measuring ROI, and creating your very own action plan – an interview with Angela Ashenden

Beth Barling

Thursday, March 21, 2013 by

If you’ve got anything to do with how your organisation collaborates internally amongst employees, or externally with partners, customers, suppliers and other entities, then this blog is for you.  It’s all about our online Collaboration Capability Benchmarking tool and how you can use it to generate a personalised Action Plan report for your own organisation’s collaboration strategy. To find out more about the tool and what some of the challenges organisation face today when it comes to collaboration, I spent half an hour with the brains behind the tool, Angela Ashenden, our Principal Analyst for collaboration here at MWD.

I began by asking her to tell me a bit about what collaboration really means in today’s business context.

Angela: What “collaboration” means is different to every organisation because it’s entirely driven by what you’re trying to do. In reality most organisations don’t have an initiative to “collaborate better” in its own right… there’s a reason behind it, whether it’s the need to be sharing knowledge better around your organisation in order to drive efficiencies, or to create a better sense of unified working across your organisation, especially if you’ve got a large organisation for example. So I think it’s one of those very fluffy terms if you look at it in its own right, but at the same time we’ve chosen the term as much because it’s separate from the technology – collaboration is not just about technology, although clearly technology is an important enabler in helping your organisation to collaborate better. But the idea is that it’s not the technology that makes you collaborative – it’s the practice that makes you collaborate. That’s why we’ve gone for the term “collaboration” in this context.

In that sense then, collaboration is probably something that most people do anyway… it’s part and parcel of what we do day to day. What is it about now, today, that’s driving people to look at this as a specific initiative?

Angela: There are a number of things. Partly it’s something that, yes, we do it on a day-to-day basis, but typically, it’s probably fair to say that very few organisations naturally do it well on an enterprise- or organisation-wide basis. You might collaborate with the people who you sit next to or your immediate team, and you talk to other people on a day-to-day basis, but breaking that out into an organisation-wide practice in terms of sharing between teams, or knowing what other people in the organisation are doing and taking advantage of that… that doesn’t happen in the majority of organisations, without some concerted effort to make sure it’s happening. There are some places where there’s a natural culture for that, particularly where the organisation is structured in a much more open way to start with. But for a lot of companies that have grown by acquisition, for example, you end up with lots of little pockets, and those parts of the organisation don’t really interact with each other. It’s also a symptom of the globalisation of business and the growth of the global business environment, that it’s no longer just about how your team works; it’s about how the company works as a whole entity across the globe – and all the challenges that come with that come with that kind of distributed, multi-lingual, multi-cultural environment as well.

In today’s economic climate where budgets are tight, have you seen ways in which companies are able to quantify the benefits of collaboration? Given that it can be quite a “fluffy” thing, is it possible to do that?

Angela: It’s possible – but it’s not easy. In fact I wrote a blog on this topic for the AIIM community just recently. Regardless of how you measure and what you measure, the trick with all of these things of course is to be able to compare what you had before with what you have after, and that is often the challenge with demonstrating the benefit from these types of initiatives. It’s as much because collaboration – either implementing it or improving collaboration in your organisation – is not a short-term project. It takes the long term for it to come into effect. It takes the long term to change people’s behaviour to make them more collaborative. And the problem is because of that lag, if you like, between what was done before and what was done after, it’s difficult measure that – quite often you don’t think of what you wanted to measure before until later on. So that’s the challenge. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, but if you have the foresight to look at the way you do things in advance, then provide yourself with a benchmark to compare it with, it’s entirely possible to achieve.

You mentioned about having the foresight to take a benchmark… how does the Collaboration Capability Benchmarking tool help me with that, and what do I have to do?

Angela: The tool is based on a questionnaire format where there’s a set of questions around your organisational structure, strategy, the technology that you have in place in the organisation, your approach to governance, and also your readiness for adoption. It looks at the sophistication of your existing culture – its natural “collaborativeness” – and uses that to gain a picture of where you are right now. Based on that we create a benchmark of where you are today, shown to you as a graph and as a percentage. The report also shows a more detailed benchmark score so you can compare your own position with other organisations in similar situations to you – in the same industry, for example. Then off the back of your responses we provide a set of actions for you to take, your priorities and where you need to be focusing in order to get yourself more ready to do this. Or, if there are discrepancies between your responses, then we suggest the things you should be looking out for.

If I was representing an organisation that wasn’t that far ahead, it sounds like we might be laying ourselves pretty open… what do you do with the responses people put into the tool?

Angela: It’s all entirely anonymous. None of the data will be associated with your organisation… no-one else will be able to see what your organisation has scored, it’s entirely private to you. So you’re in a position where you might be at the beginning of your journey when you first take the benchmark test, but that’s fine – it gives you a starting point. Then you can come back to the tool time after time, and gauge how much you’ve improved in that time. But all of that will be completely anonymous. It’s assimilated based on people being in the same industry as you, but you have no way of knowing who those people are. There are no concerns about giving away your readiness – or lack of readiness!

How did the tool come about?

Angela: We’ve learned a lot over the years from organisations who have tried to implement social collaboration technologies to improve collaboration with their organisation – and we write about a lot of them too. We know a lot about best practices, but also about the things not to do! Based on that we’ve put together this tool which is designed to help you gauge your readiness for, not just starting a collaboration initiative, but also your chances of success with that initiative.

The tool is free to use… so what’s in it for you?

Angela: From our perspective this is a fantastic way for us to gain a greater insight into where organisations are with this as an initiative. We spend a lot of time talking to organisations about their collaboration initiatives anyway, but there’s only so many people we can speak to. So this is great data for us to get a sense of where the industry is, what the challenges are that people are facing. It also helps us to shape our research agenda to focus on the priorities, the challenges, that you’re facing and tune it more to what’s really needed out there at the moment.

Thank you Angela. I look forward to hearing about what you learn.

Your next steps…

Click here to find out more about the Collaboration Capability Benchmarking tool, and download a sample Action Plan report (PDF). For more detail, read the FAQ. Or simply get started.


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