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Op-ed - Written by on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 16:40 - 4 Comments

Steve Guengerich
The collaboration paradox: Why E2.0 efforts fail

A little over a year ago, one of my nGenera colleagues, Denis Hancock, wrote about what I’ll refer to as the potential “economic impact” paradox of mass collaboration in the post “Is there a paradox of Wikinomics?”

For nearly three years at nGenera, I’ve been deeply involved in the description, promotion, or management of Enterprise 2.0, collaborative systems for very large organizations. And, the more time that passes, the more I’ve been convinced that there is an even more vexing collaboration paradox, which I’d categorize as a management or perhaps “relational” one.

For me, the classic reference article for this collaboration paradox is “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams,” written by Tammy Erickson and Lynda Gratton, published in the Harvard Business Review in November 2007. Here is a key passage early in the article that perfectly captures the paradox:

Although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success. (NOTE: bolding added for emphasis)

Members of complex teams are less likely—absent other influences—to share knowledge freely, to learn from one another, to shift workloads flexibly to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another complete jobs and meet deadlines, and to share resources—in other words, to collaborate. They are less likely to say that they “sink or swim” together, want one another to succeed, or view their goals as compatible.

The authors go on to describe specific methods of improving the potential for successful collaboration, which Tammy’ research since then has expanded to a list of what she refers to as ten (10) “enablers of collaborative capacity.” Among these enablers are things such as “important and challenging tasks,” “existence of trust-based relationships,” and “executives who role model collaboration.”

Want to know why your collaborative effort is struggling, even if the intent of the effort is well-defined and the expected outcomes well understood? Then, ask yourself if these enablers are being amply employed in your organization. Chances are that an authentic improvement (and I stress, authentic) in those enablers will improve the collaborative effort.

For more on this subject from Tammy herself, you can catch her keynote address for the Enterprise 2.0 conference last November, on demand from the nGenera website.

With that, I’ll make this post short-and-sweet and, on a personal note, wish a fond farewell to those of you who may followed my writing on the Wikinomics blog over the past year, as this is my final post on it.

You can still follow my thoughts on the industry at my personal blog (http://www.guengerich.com) as well as my daily musings on Twitter (@sguengerich). Thanks to everyone who has read or commented on the blog and a great thanks to my many nGenera friends and colleagues!


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L2A Links for March 25th | Learn to Adapt
Mar 25, 2010 15:02

[...] Wikinomics – The Collaboration Paradox: Why E2.0 Efforts Fail – Steve Guengerich has a very intriguing post about the "Catch-22" challenges that exist whenever you bring together a team of "large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists" to work on a project. [...]

marilyn davison
Mar 26, 2010 15:33

thanks Steve for a very gracious and insightful post and look forward to following your insight on your personal blogs, Very Best, marilyn

Vaughan P Merlyn
Mar 26, 2010 20:40

Great post, as ever, Steve! There are still, I believe, many mysteries to collaboration in general, and particularly for virtual collaboration. And yes, I’ve experienced myself some of the ‘double edge swords’ that Tammy and Lynda point out that tend to surface in collaborative efforts.

But more to the point, I’m sorry to hear your voice will be absent from the Wikinomics blog. You will be sadly missed!

Volume Two
Mar 26, 2010 22:32

[...] Wikinomics – The collaboration paradox: Why E2.0 efforts fail [...]

Now available in paperback!
Don Tapscott and Anthony D. William's latest collaboration, Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. Learn more.

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