In a social sense, collaboration creates a community. If collaboration is successful, the community takes on a life of its own. It becomes a network, defined by the structured processes and information shared by members of the community.
This is true of the social networks that many of us use – Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, et al. The website of each network is effectively a collaboration service in the cloud that connects all members and enables the community to function and grow.
Do we view business collaboration in the same way that we view the social experience? As a network linking a community – one to one, one to many, many to many? If not, then we’re missing the whole point of B2B collaboration.
A network – business or social – should be easy to learn and use. If it’s not, then it can’t spawn a community, much less sustain one. Beyond ease of use, a network should be valuable to users, so that they want to use it regularly, in increasing amounts. Then it becomes a habit, built into people’s daily routines. This is especially applicable to business collaboration services.
Collaborative processes are often mandated by job requirements because – when executed properly – they produce a successful outcome. But if the network that supports these processes isn’t easy to use, then it isn’t used consistently – with predictable results. Processes are incomplete. Information is inaccurate. Deadlines are missed. Schedules slip. Costs exceed budget.
On the other hand, if the network is easy to learn and use, then the team – the network’s community – ramps up quickly and uses it more regularly and consistently. Then the social principle kicks in, and the team functions in a coordinated, interdependent manner – with a life of its own.
Collaboration among teams within a single organization has one level of value. The larger and more cross-functional the teams, the higher the value. When collaboration crosses multiple organizations, its value increases exponentially. And if the network that supports multiparty collaboration across organizations is a single service – rather than a set of disparate tools with limited or no interoperability – then the value multiplies further.
It’s essential that the network be independent, neutral and trusted by all parties engaged in collaboration. If it’s not, then collaborative processes and information sharing will be disrupted. For example, this is what happens when data is trapped behind one organization’s firewall and can’t be accessed by team members in other organizations.
Like social networking, business collaboration reaches a tipping point both within and across organizations. In Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology, this is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point,” when the team of collaborators becomes a community with a life of its own. Members of this community move on to other assignments and jobs, and they take the collaborative processes and information that they have internalized with them. At one time or another, most of us have heard a new boss say, “When I was at such and such, we followed these processes and used this service. We’ll do the same here because we have similar challenges and opportunities – and this service really works.”
The tipping point results from the network multiplier effect – the community of collaborators is noticeably larger than the sum of its parts and infinitely larger than any one organization. We see it all the time in the global construction industry. A contractor uses our service on one project because it was purchased and implemented by the project manager. Then the contractor moves on to manage his/her own project and adopts the service – typically for a team of hundreds across numerous organizations in different geographic regions.
That’s how our community grows. We’re now up to 40,000 organizations connected in our network. How about your community?