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Business - Written by on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 15:23 - 4 Comments

Naumi Haque
Collaboration in recessionary times

There’s an ongoing discussion taking place in the office about the implications of a recession on collaboration in the enterprise. Two schools of thought are emerging:

  • Collaboration will help us do more with less. The idea is that collaboration can lead to greater efficiencies and reduce the amount of internal resources required for projects. Collaboration leads to better information which helps make better decisions in terms of how to allocate resources. Collaboration also takes advantage of prosumers and social networks where individuals can help co-innovate with companies at a lower cost than using exclusively internal resources. There’s an assumption underlying this scenario that there’s some surplus capacity in the economy because a) companies are cutting back on projects, but not necessarily eliminating all of the corresponding staff, and b) those employees that are cut will be available for contract work and targeted initiatives. In fact, this may even be a good time to stock up on promising young talent. The pro-collaboration folks suggest that collaboration can lead to new growth opportunities that will help companies differentiate themselves in difficult times. Extra cycle times may also be directed at innovation and R&D; “there’s a lot things you can do during rainy days” and building a pipeline of products and services may be one of them.
  • There’s no time for collaboration; doing more with less means we’ve got to hunker down. With an economic downturn companies will not be willing to appoint resources to collaborative projects. Since the return on investment of collaborative initiatives is not always apparent, employees will also not be willing to allocate their time on activities that are not measured in performance reviews or not seen as directly contributing to the bottom line. From an employee perspective, it may make sense to hoard knowledge in tough times and be less collaborative in order to make yourself indispensable (i.e. prevent being eliminated). The “hunkering down” managers believe that collaboration is risky and can lead to wasted resources on dead-end projects. Moreover, they frown upon self-organizing behavior; suggesting that it will result in unfocused initiatives. It’s time to run a tight ship and that means scrutinizing all discretionary pursuits, focusing on internal resources, cutting salary expenses where possible, and getting remaining salaried employees to shoulder the extra weight.

Two opinions; two very different strategies. What do you think?


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Marc Dierens
Nov 11, 2008 16:05

Very interesting discussion, and I believe that the (r)evolution towards collaboration is unstoppable. I also believe that collaboration will increase in a recession, there are too many benefits for it not to. Cheers, Marc

Len Devanna
Nov 12, 2008 19:05

A no-brainer in my opinion. In tough times, companies HAVE to do more with less. Leveraging collaborative tools to drive co-innovation and improve relationships with prospects, customers, suppliers, etc is key.
To echo Marc’s point – while the economic situation may be focusing more eyes on this discussion, it’s inevitable change, IMO. It’s old school behavior versus new. Those who can adapt will survive… Those who cannot may not.

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » Coworking – Making Lonely Freelancers Yesterday’s News
Nov 13, 2008 19:52

[...] especially in tricky economic times. I’ve talked about it in the past, and Naumi has discussed collaboration as a must-have. But the focus with telecommuting and freelance marketplaces has been [...]

Linden Head
Apr 17, 2009 10:18

I think that assuming greater collaboration would unquestionably be adopted in recessionary times perhaps overestimates the degree of collaboration that companies use in a boom economy. Although increasing (as it should), adoption of collaborative business practices is not yet ubiquitous. This fact, coupled with the tendency for people (and thus companies) to resort to what they know and are comfortable with in stressful scenarios, may encourage less collaboration.

Whether a firm increases or decreases collaboration during recessionary times would be largely dictated by their financial and strategic positioning. Those firms that see a recessionary time as a temporary inconvenience (companies with positive cash flow and strong long-term strategic goals) I think would be more apt to adopt greater collaboration. In contrast, firms that see recessionary times as a disaster (companies devouring cash reserves with primarily short-run profitability objectives) would be more apt to forego collaboration for options that have (1) more short run ROI, and (2) more certainty in their outcome. Given the uncertain ROI in a time when this may be become the sole criteria for evaluating the direction of projects, perhaps collaboration will decrease in recessionary times.

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