It’s not about the tools or technology – It’s about the culture

DRAFT – asking for interaction and comments below – include your name with worthy comments and I’ll include your name in the contributing authors)

In pursuit of sincere and additive collaboration, we must understand what collaboration is, the value of achieving it, what factors effect it,  and how to set up conditions for a successful collaborative environment that are optimized for the product, and sustainable for the future.

Many of the conversations I have on getting people to adopt collaborative technologies are focused on improving the ease of use of a particular tool or service, how to link it to other tools, and improving how they interact with one another to put useful information in front of an end user.  It is believed that we will get more users to use it as a collaborative tool or service if it is more intuitive and fun.  We look at Facebook, and can talk about the numbers of users, ease of use, no users manual, and go on about its growth and the platform that it is for sharing information and maintaining situational awareness.  We labor under a false belief that if we could somehow make our tools and services that easy, than people would share more and collaborate more.  When in truth, we have been putting great collaborative tools and capabilities backed by leadership and guidance in front of our workforce for over a decade now and have only moderate gains in collaborative activity and the network effect to speak to.

Although amazing progress on tools and services have taken place, and are indeed important, I don’t believe that this is where the battle for the hearts and minds of our potential collaborators  is.  Rather, I believe that the value of collaboration, how much effort it takes, and the alignment of tools, services, and processes that optimize collaborative opportunities while simultaneously removing older systems and processes is essential to maximizing the various aspects of knowledge products.

This “build it and they will come” sentiment has taken us pretty far, but there is growing recognition that the tools and services alone are not getting us that much further down the path. Tool fatigue, and password overload as well as watching software come and go over the years has taken its toll on the willingness of the workforce to engage and learn new software tools to the point of people just saying – “No”. In addition to that, we have left the old, comfortable tools in place rather than burning the ship behind us, and forcing the use of new – uncomfortable,  processes and tools. This may well be another factor in why there has been only moderate gains over the last ten years in the methods and the numbers of collaboratively produced products.

Why do tools matter?

E-mail and client side authoring software like MS Word, are largely responsible for shaping our methods of collaborating to date, and they perpetuate an individualistic authoring environment and linear processes that are quite inefficient.  What is needed is to shift from tools that support very private, inefficient content creation that is linearly pushed through an editing model followed by a dissemination process, into tools and software that facilitate situational awareness of changes, and continuous engagement and monitoring options across the continuum of activity that is knowledge production, dissemination, and updating. One that is algorithmically involved with discovering, suggesting and notifying others with similar interests, responsibilities, or expertise, and helping to connect them.  In other words, implement processes and modify the existing suite of tools to enable personalization of an authoring / engagement environment that optimizes the desired collaborative activities that benefit the knowledge worker and the knowledge product.

What needs to change?

A sense of pride in what we can achieve over that of what any one individual can achieve on their own, and a stake in ownership of the knowledge products that bear our organizational name over that of a product that has any one individuals name.  A willingness to view all production from our workforce as something we are each individually accountable for, and that each item reflects our culture of excellence and is of the highest standards and quality.

Barriers to collaborative environment establishment?

Along with the modification of tools, processes and ownership in a brand, there is a longstanding perception of individual worth that is fostered by “putting people in a workplace and establishing incentives for competing, rather than sharing. We set up processes as barriers to creative thinking and learning along with policies that fail to accommodate how people actually work together” – (John B).  We also see individual names on knowledge products along side that of our organization, thereby crediting the product to the person, not the process or collaborative environment that has created a piece of work. This individual achievement is further encouraged by our organizational awards and recognition of individual efforts, many of which carry financial reward. This perpetuates the individual author over that of the community of interest authoring of knowledge products, and sends a clear signal to authors that is in opposition to the desired collaborative environment.


It takes work

It takes time

It takes real thought, patience, courage and professionalism

Willingness to educate

Willingness to be honest

A sense of team

A firm understanding of and belief in the benefits of the collaborative process

It takes tools that support each of the above and are embedded in the process

Communications, incentives, training, and recognition need to convey and support the messages that support a collaborative environment


So what do we need to get comfortable with in order to optimize collaborative benefits and activities as individuals?

Collaboration, is not particularly easy, even in the best of environments where people are seated at the same table, given even footing to speak from, and with a common goal in mind for which their expertise has been selected. Yet, it bears good fruit, while improving understanding by all group members.  This isn’t what you would normally do, nor how you would normally do it, but you are going to go, and with good intention, represent the information you believe, and the viewpoints you have in the creation of a product that several people will be working on. You must be articulate and professional in arguing your viewpoint, or if during that professional discussion you change your view in light of new information, be willing to express how or why your viewpoint has changed. In the case where your view may not be represented, you should ensure that documentation of the fact of your discussion is incorporated into the record, so that others can see the viewpoints that are opposed were discussed, and remaining arguments are supported individually with sourcing.

In sitting down and chewing on Individual productivity and Team productivity, here is a list of things I am comparing:




Points of View

Agreements and Disagreements

Knowledge transfer

Signal to noise


Outlier – repetitiveness

Quality vs experience

Chart of speed vs richness, quality, and number of collaborators

Contributing Authors: John Bordeaux,

Again, please feel free to share thoughts, this is a start, and will be finished in the next couple of days.

Thanks – Lance.


5 Responses to “It’s not about the tools or technology – It’s about the culture”

  1. It’s funny that collaboration for some technologies and programs amounts to citing metadata with each paragraph. Take the assumptions embedded in that mental image for a moment. You know the content, you know what metadata belongs – the task is to establish metadata such that the person who needs the information will be able to locate it by searching or browsing metadata tags that align with what ascribe for the content.

    All this assumes, in other words, that you know the end-user, in what way the information would be relevant to that user, the language and lexicon that that user employs to search, etc. It also assumes that you know ALL the metadata that may apply in the future to establish relevance for that poor user.

    Collaboration, true collaboration, is hard from an organizational perspective – but utterly natural from a personal perspective. Witness folks lending a hand to push a car that won’t start. Watch people open doors for a harried mother with her hands full. If a young child runs from its mother and she asks your help – you will respond. Helping others is human, we are social at our core. You will share knowledge at the point of need: If I ask you to tell me what you know about a topic, you’ll become resentful and ask for context. If I tell you I’m struggling with something and I know you’ve tackled similar problems, you will be much more likely to share what you know.

    So it is culture, but it’s not that collaboration is unnatural. It’s that we put people in a workplace and establish incentives for competing, processes as a barrier to creative thinking and learning, and policies that fail to accommodate how people actually work together (co-labor). The good news is that we create this culture, and we can re-create it. The courage to question some core beliefs is our main barrier to addressing the barriers that stand in the way of a collaborative culture.

    Remember, we cannot ‘establish’ culture – we can set the conditions by addressing the things we do in the workplace that force us into unnatural habits. We all have colleagues that we would never think to talk with or learn from – until we run into them at an informal event and learn their story. This is but one channel for setting the right conditions: more happy hours.

  2. Lance Strzok Says:

    John, thanks for your insight and for sharing. I will most definitely work some of these great comments into the body. Also, more of the happy hours too 🙂


  3. Lance Strzok Says:

    John, I incorporated some of the good words you shared, please let me know if I missed the mark while I did so.

  4. Chris Stuart Says:

    A couple of things from our off-line discussion. First, no matter what the tool, a cultural shift in how analysts produce is going to be challenging. We touched on two keys. One is in defining an analyst’s job, leadership must clearly state that one’s own analysis is half the equation. The other half is seeking out and reading, evaluating, and adding to/correcting other analysts’ work. The other key is incentives. There must be enough incentive (in the eye of the analyst) to overcome current inertia. One idea you mentioned was some sort of scoring mechanism that is displayed along with the author’s byline. One has a score for how much s/he produced as well as a score for what s/he has collaborated on, that is there for all to see.

    • Lance Strzok Says:

      Indeed, a great discussion, thanks for getting those comments in place so that I can incorporate them into the article. It was nice running into you and talking for a while.

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