Collaboration is about people, not just technology

Successful collaboration within a business is as much a matter of culture as it is of implementing technology.

So claim speakers at Dennis Business Media's inaugral Collaboration and Communication conference held in London yesterday.

When companies decide they want to be more collaborative, they have to realise that the change that entails is "a cultural journey, not a software installation," according to speaker, Kat Mandelstein, a consultant with PwC.

"It is [about] much more than the technologies when it comes to collaboration," said Mandelstein. "It's really focused in on how you solve your business problems and your business processes, creating experiences for your employees ... and then really at the hub of it is accelerating business growth, because none of us will have the jobs to be collaborative if we don't grow our businesses!"

When it comes to creating employee experiences, Mandelstein said it was particularly important to understand what kind of people a company employees and their expectations, which are often influenced by age.

This topic was also touched on by another speaker, Hannah Nardini, a design director and workplace consultant at Twenty 20 Design. She explained that the different generations currently in the workplace, from the Baby Boomers down to Generation Z, all have different expectations and experiences when it comes to working life. This, she added, influences how comfortable they will be with any shift towards creating a more collaborative workplace.

However, she warned the audience not to follow lazy assumptions about these groups either, adding that Boomers in particular are the opposite of the inflexible, "stick-in-the-mud" stereotype often thrown at them.

"[Boomers] are very, very adaptable," said Nardini. "If you think about the career path of a Baby Boomer, they have gone through the most transitions, if you think about it. They have gone from the typing pool to open plan to office, back to open plan, back to the office and back again to open plan."

"[They] are natural collaborators. They are more likely to get up and physically go and see somebody and have a conversation with them than rely on email or picking the phone up," she added.

Younger generations, on the other hand, can be overly reliant on communications technologies such as email because it has existed for their entire adult lives. As a result, it can be harder to get them to collaborate outside of their inbox. However, by mixing the older workers with the young, companies can create a more collaborative workspace as the newer hires are brought out of their shells and knowledge transfer both ways ensues.

In addition working out the generational profile of the business, organisations also need to work out if they are made up mainly of extroverts, introverts, or ambiverts, according to Nardini. People with these different personality traits also require different levels of support and opportunities in order to collaborate, Nardini added.

While building a collaborative culture may prove difficult, once it is in place other key aspects like rolling out collaboration technology will be easier and more likely to be accepted, delegates and speakers alike agreed. Furthermore, they also stressed the importance of sustaining these cultural and strategic elements once implemented so that collaboration changes and evolves with the needs of the business and those inside and outside of the organisation.

Jane McCallion
Deputy Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's deputy editor, specializing in cloud computing, cyber security, data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Deputy Editor, she held the role of Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialise in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.