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The Collaborative Commuters
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Alan Hamilton    

“Being Social” is not a thing. It’s not something a business would want to do. In the same way as a business doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t need to be social. It’s there to deliver something to someone – dividends to its shareholders, services to its citizens or aid to the people it is there to help.

So why would “social” be something you would want in business? Let’s drop the word “social” for a minute and think about a new word – “collaborative”. Why would a business be collaborative?

Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals [Wikipedia].

So if we’re working together to achieve shared goals then presumably Collaboration is something a business would be interested in?

So what does Collaboration look like these days? Well it’s talking to each other and helping solve each others problems by applying our own experience and knowledge. It’s working together on a document, or jointly moving something forward by each applying our own abilities.

The result for the business is that customers can be happier, projects delivered more accurately, with better quality and perhaps on time. Work gets done more efficiently and, in general, work progresses smoothly towards whatever goal it is we have for the organisation.

This is how work has always been, well, it was when we all commuted to an office and were around the same people every day. I remember hearing about a group of people who worked in different companies in London and lived in different parts of England served by the same train line. They all chose to sit in the same part of the train and over time decided that they would each bring part of breakfast with them. One would bring coffee, the other cereal, one would bring fruit, and so on. They then had a good breakfast and shared the experience while swapping information about their lives. The commute went quickly, everyone benefitted from the experience and the people found that through collaboration there was greater value to be had from the train journey than would otherwise be the case.

Its this inherently “social” nature in humans which lets this kind of behaviour happen. Imagine therefore what steps could be taken in your organisation to make the most of this collaborative approach?

You might think you already do collaborate at work. You’ve got document management, intranets, emails, corporate bulletins, jogging clubs and social events. What more do people need? You’re right – maybe they don’t need anything more for them to turn up and work for you each day.

But like the people on the train, they turned up each day to travel to their destination. They could have simply read their newspaper or listened to their iPod. Instead they decided to talk to each other, find out more, and find a common ground – breakfast in this case – that they could work on. They each brought their “expertise” to the shared goal.

What opportunity do you offer your staff to share a goal and bring their expertise? What about the many different locations your organisation runs in? What connections could be formed by people who don’t work next to each other but actually could collaborate to produce something great in your organisation?

Permit me a small metaphor: Some organisations think that collaboration is provided using an intranet. To our commuters, this is the equivalent of the train itself. They’re all on it, but they’re all doing their own thing. Other organisations think that collaboration can be provided by giving people email. Our commuters would see this as the background conversations they hear in the train as they move to their destination. Occasionally something important (like an announcement from the driver) might be heard, but mostly its unimportant chit-chat they have to try to block out.

Instead, if you give people a common purpose, like connecting Project Managers across your organisation, or involve discussion and feedback in business processes, you unlock the social nature of your staff in a way which is shared instantly with the rest of the company. Who knows who might in the future make use of a snippet of knowledge or experience which a collaborative network in your company would capture?

So, being social isn’t really a thing. Being collaborative is, and if you think you’re doing it well in your organisation, consider our commuters and how they had their breakfast.

Filed under: Social Business Tagged: social collaboration, social_business

Oct 13, 2014
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