How to Build a Collaborative Organization

Building a collaborative organization is not easy. Collaboration is not a rule you can set, it is a organizational culture that is embraced by its members. But where do you start? What is important? Here are four important things you should keep in mind.

1. Do it as an innovation platform.

In order to succeed in the collaboration world, you cannot just think of yourself as a content provider. Instead, you must see yourself as a curator; someone who creates a context or a platform that allows other people to self-organize and create things that are valuable, both for you and for them and maybe even for the world.

In the networked age, organizations can now develop their own performance. They can create a platform for innovation that taps into the power of a larger, more diverse and ultimately more capable network of contributors than one could ever find in a single organization. Building open and intelligent networks for transportation innovation will enable communities to form around shared problems.

If people are going to hack your products anyway, then you mind as well get ahead of the game and include them into your process instead of suing them.

Make your products modular, re-configurable and editable. Supply the raw materials so that collaborators can add value to your product and make it easier to remix and share. The advantage is that you will always be able to count on a dynamic and fertile ecosystem for growth and innovation.

Finally, don’t expect a free ride. Your collaborators will increasingly expect shares in things they helped build but will also be willing to contribute more if you make it profitable for potential collaborators to get involved.

2. Rethinking the commons.

All organizations should abandon their fortress mentality and open up by sharing some of their assets within their business networks or even beyond. Why? Because sharing is about attaining growth, innovation and profits. It is true that companies need to protect critical intellectual property (IP), but at the same time they would not be able to collaborate effectively if their IPs was hidden. So to make collaboration work for your organization, you will need to selectively put intellectual property and other assets up for grabs, thus allowing new projects and opportunities for collaboration to emerge. This might sound like a potential threat to businesses; yet in fact it is an opportunity for organizations to discover new grounds for creativity, both inside and outside the borders of their organization.


What Knowledge Work Should You Outsource, HBR

There are many ways for an organization to “let go”: it can mean giving your employees more freedom and more flexibility to innovate and co-create with their peers, it can mean tapping into your suppliers and partners for ideas and collaborating more closely on product design and manufacturing. It can mean sharing at least some of your assets with the public to expand your reach or help attract a larger network of contributors. It can mean letting a loyal and engaged community of enthusiasts help grow your brand. In making the decision to outsource, organizations should consider strategy as well as cost: Does having direct ownership of your work confer any competitive advantage?

If so, keep that work in-house and make sure that those responsible for the work are freed from lower-value tasks that others could accomplish. But if you decide to outsource the work,  you need to think about how large the potential benefit of this is for the organization. If there is a benefit, outsource this work and make it open for any external help. This sharing however comes with its own challenges, since it means less control and requires practitioners to learn and abide by the rules of scientific and creative communities. It means investing in infrastructures for collaboration while carefully considering when and how to distribute rewards and profits within the community.

To make sharing work you’ll need to reveal your intellectual property to the right networks to let it spawn knowledge creation and innovation. You’ll need to stay connected to the community so you can leverage new contributions as they come in, and also need to dedicate resources to filtering and aggregating contributions.

3. Create a culture of collaboration.

The hardest challenge for anyone who wants to transform their institution in the networked age is to deepen and broaden the culture of collaboration. To make this work for you, you have to be genuinely open to new ideas. The first place to start with is your own workplace. Try to come up with incentives rewarding group performance rather than individual performance. By doing so, you set an example through your own behavior in the way you collaborate and share information, and direct the organization toward a common goal.

To turn your organization into a collaborative workplace, the organization’s leaders must recognize that collaboration is essential for reaching their common goal. Therefore you will need to devote many of your resources to attain full collaboration. You must relentlessly communicate the need to make enhanced collaboration a success, sustain the momentum, and then describe the next steps.

4. Find and strengthen the vanguard.

Collaborative communities cannot get off the ground without a core group of leaders who establish the vision and community values, and attract more people to the ecosystem.

This small group provides the social capital and technical infrastructure that other participants can build on and sets the tone of the community. This group can also have a profound influence on the type of community that evolves, especially since newcomers tend to model their behavior on what they have already observed. Communities that create things develop their own rules that govern issues such as communications, appropriations, and the form and manner of contribution.

Providing incentives certainly will help motivate the vanguard to be successful. Let them expand gradually and tackle collaboration as real work, not as a distraction.

Moreover, empower the group through its collective intelligence by following the principles layed down in the book “Wisdom of Crowds“, namely diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization, and aggregation.

collaborative organizations

Empowering the Professional–Amateur (Pro-Am) helps you build ‘social capital’: Networks of relationships that allow people to collaborate, share ideas and take risks together. ‘Social capital’ can help glue a society together and allow people to trust each other, thus encouraging them to change collaboratively and share risks. Their distaste for hierarchy and preference for collaboration are forcing organizations to rethink how they recruit, compensate, develop, and supervise talent. Companies can leverage this to seek out fresh insight to build better products, services, and even strong a brand.

Unfortunately, most organizations and institutions do a pretty poor job of engaging young people. Smart companies understand that tools and platforms such as Facebook and other social media are becoming the new operating system for their businesses. And these tools come naturally to the new generation, like the air they breathe.

A longer version of this article was previously published on Ahmad’s blog. 

photo credit: Werkheim via photopin cc