Global Collaboration – It’s a Small World

globe-puzzle-feature2Some topics stand the test of time … this is one of them. We start the year with resolutions in mind, setting goals and focusing on our teams. With half of 2015 behind us, it’s time to check out your progress. On track to meet those goals? Keeping teams in the loop and collaborating to advance all parties involved? Review this recently republished Outsourcing Center article for a mid-year boost to ensure you stay focused, energize your teams, and meet your 2015 objectives.

When CEOs, CFOs and other business leaders attend technology conferences, strange things happen. Long strings of deviant ideas, initiatives and projects begin populating CIO inboxes, typically opening with the ever-popular question, “Why aren’t we doing this?”

Few things provoke this behavior more than collaboration across the enterprise. Rarely defined, almost always expensive and often utilized poorly, global enterprise collaboration is a great concept that doesn’t always live up to expectations.

So, what steps should companies take to create viable collaboration strategies? How can they get everyone on board with the initiative? And, how can they avoid the pitfalls that have plagued other collaboration efforts? We spoke to some industry experts to find out the answers.

Start with a Vision, Not Technology

Although our experts come from different companies and different parts of the world, they all opened the conversation with the same thought: collaboration is about people, not technology. Yet many organizations take a tactical approach to this initiative—investing in systems but not investing the time required to make the program work.

“The right processes and platforms will only get you so far,” said Sanjay Jain, chief strategy officer for WNS Global Services.” A global collaboration strategy must lay the foundation for trust and confidence among the participants, both at the executive decision-making and implementation stages, and must be governed and monitored effectively.”

Companies have to take the initiative seriously and put a leadership team behind it, or they could miss a great opportunity.

“It’s imperative to have a formal steering committee led by an individual who is charged with making sure the initiative works, that the right topics are discussed and that teams are really working as teams, with no finger pointing,” explained Aninda Bose, head of Strategic Sales and Marketing for NIIT Technologies. “Companywide global collaboration efforts have to work like a marriage, based on faith, open communication and transparency. These qualities are key to success.”

Instead of investing time in pre-planning, many companies take the “ready, fire, aim” approach to collaboration and then wonder why the whole initiative backfires.

“All too often, companies are tactical in deploying a specific social engine or collaboration solution into the environment without first considering its capability to deliver practical use and value across the enterprise,” said Gloria Burke, chief knowledge officer and global portfolio leader for the Unified Social Business Practice at Unisys. “At the same time, it’s imperative to have leadership alignment and active support of the initiative. Real change and institutional adoption begins top down.”

Strategize, Socialize and Communicate

When it comes to communication, once is not enough.

“Senior leaders have to be in constant communication with the grass roots level for the initiative to succeed. It can’t be a ‘once and done’ edict,” said Akhil Agarwal, COO of InterGlobe Technologies (IGT). “Top leaders might articulate a goal, but that message can get diluted as it percolates throughout the organization. So, continual reinforcement and clarification from the top down is key to successful collaboration initiatives.”

People also have to understand why they’re collaborating, what the goals are, and, that their contribution to the team matters.

“Companies have to create a collaboration culture through communication, feedback and by using a consistent, well-defined collaboration process,” explained Sandeep Malhotra, associate vice president of Media & Entertainment for HCL. “In our organization, our enterprise knowledge executive also acts as a chief collaboration officer, responsible for creating policies that ensure effective collaboration. It is an ongoing initiative.”

It’s also important to make time to socialize the concept among individual employees to get everyone on board with the program.

“Organizations often forget to socialize the value that knowledge-sharing brings to the individual employee. Typically, knowledge and collaboration tools are pushed out at a high level, which does nothing to compel action or change behavior,” Burke said. “By socializing value cases for key areas of business, employee roles and engaging organization stakeholders early on, companies can address the ‘what’s in it for me’ question, which is critical to drive adoption and sustained use of the tools. It’s a simple fact: people support what they helped build.”

Our experts recommend engaging representatives from each department to help develop the collaboration strategy and choose the tools, creating a team of advocates for the initiative. Many held workshops and other events to get every employee enthused about the opportunities collaboration brings to the company, its clients—as well as the benefits to individual employees.

If you want your employees to create a profile, then your CEO and department leaders should all have profiles. If you’re encouraging blogging, then your executive team should lead the way—and write the stuff themselves, as opposed to passing it off to a ghostwriter in the marketing department.

Centralize, Standardize and Incentivize

Treating collaboration as one cohesive program, as opposed to a string of individual initiatives, is essential to success.

”While drawing up the collaboration strategy, the management must define the business requirements it wants to address with collaboration. While developing a solution strategy, the best way to bring the disconnected parts into a cohesive whole is to build standardized processes and platforms that can be accessed and harnessed by employees across the organization,” Jain said.

It takes the right technology, not necessarily the most technology.

“We have one main collaborative platform that scales our enterprise and serves more than 22,500 employees worldwide,” Burke said. “We accomplished this with only two social engines: one that serves the global employee base and one used specifically by our sales force and account managers for developing and managing client business.”

This centralization also prevents the turf wars that often arise, even in the best-intentioned collaboration efforts.

“One common breakdown comes when people feel like they’re carrying all the weight and their co-collaborators aren’t contributing as much. That’s when people start protecting their turf and stop working as a team,” Agarwal said. “One way to solve this problem is to put performance data in a common area where everyone can see the progress and the contribution of others.”

Give Employees Everywhere a Reason to Innovate

As companies become more geographically dispersed, with employees working from home, at a customer site or in a small facility hundreds of miles away from headquarters, there’s less face-to-face interaction, and often less creative thinking. Everyone is focused on the tasks at hand.

Collaboration can break down those walls and get employees thinking again.

“In the past, a group of five or 10 people were responsible for creating new ideas. While they were successful, we constantly heard from our teams of global employees that they had ideas too, but they weren’t being heard,” Agarwal said. “So, we created a common platform where employees could submit their ideas and other people could debate the validity of the idea, add to it or collaborate with the original poster. It’s been extremely successful and has propelled creative thinking organization wide.”

NIIT Technologies also used collaboration tools as a platform for innovation. “We’ve created a seed portal where any employee, in any location, can post ideas for innovative products, workflow improvements or something that would benefit a specific client project,” explained Bose. “Other employees can ‘like’ the idea, add commentary or start ‘following’ the employee who came up with it. That creates an environment of innovation and also connects global employees in a very real, very productive way.”

The effort is not only generating excellent ideas, but also building relationships among employees, many of whom would never have interacted with one another if not for this platform.

HCL has an IDEApreneurship Platform through which employees can contribute ideas to increase the value the company provides to its customers. The platform is a combination of an internal social network of 65,000+ employees, enterprise-wide knowledge management system, a Crowdsourcing Innovation Portal and a Value Portal that has won Forrester’s Groundswell award for Innovation.

“We have a very structured process for contributing an idea, how the idea is evangelized, approved, and how its value is communicated back to the customer,” said Malhotra. “Our Platform has a defined workflow that carries the idea throughout the consideration process. And, because we are working with concepts for individual customer accounts, we isolate and segregate the content by client, so only specific people involved with that account can assess any idea that is proprietary in nature.”

According to Malhotra, companies shouldn’t be so focused coming up with the next big thing that they fail to celebrate the successes along the way.

“We continually try to foster an entrepreneurial mindset within our employees to unlock their potential and motivate them to contribute,” Malhotra said. “So, it is important to celebrate and create a buzz around our successful endeavors. Everyone likes to hear that he or she has done a good job. You have to make time for that.”

Create a Collaboration Culture with Your Clients

To maximize the benefits of global collaboration programs, make sure you involve your strategic partners and your customers in the collaboration process.

“As outsourcing providers, it is essential that we collaborate with our customers from the beginning,” Bose said. “That way, they can stay in control, provide input and gain the benefits of outsourcing without feeling like they’re giving up the keys to the kingdom.”

For this effort to work, the leadership on both sides has to take steps to encourage collaboration.

“Engaging cross-functional and cross-company teams are great ways to build global collaborative relationships across both buyer and provider organizations,” Jain said. “As with any other partnership, being transparent about what you can and can’t deliver, as well as showcasing the difference the collaboration is making to your client’s business, goes a long way in cementing the relationship.”

Many of our experts have worked with their clients on solutions that they now co-brand and jointly market. So, collaboration can actually drive profit for provider and client alike.

Keep the Conversations Going

It’s important to note that setting up the ideal collaboration framework with the right processes and strategy is not enough to perpetuate a collaboration culture. To be successful, leaders must continually nurture the effort, engage employees and communicate at every turn.

But our experts agree, the results are well worth all the planning and effort.

“An enterprise social business platform and well-executed collaboration strategy has the power to change and transform companies,” Burke said. “In the future, it may be the difference between successful organizations and those that are left behind.”

Sounds like it’s time to start talking…

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