Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 and Collective Collaboration – Part I

The term "collaboration" is commonly used to describe the coordination of actions within a team, such as a business team or project team, that work towards a common goal. But I haven’t really found a good term or expression to describe the kind of collaboration that extends beyond the members of your closest team(s).

I had a good discussing about this subject with Laurence Hart (@piewords) on Twitter earlier today. We tried expressions such as “emergent collaboration”, “extended collaboration” or “enterprise collaboration”, but none of them felt right.

Laurence suggested that “the key may be to find the biggest flaw implied by collaboration and pick an adjective that is the opposite.” Good idea… the flaw I was trying to address was that when a team focuses too much on its own team-specific goals, it often leads to sub-optimization, waste, redundant work, bad decision-making, and so forth - stuff that all decrease the team's contributions to the common good. The team focuses on what is best for the team, not on what’s best for the enterprise as collective.

We both agreed it was worth taking “collective collaboration” for a spin.

The first thing I did after our discussion was to take a closer look at the definition of the term “collective” and I settled with this one from The Free Dictionary:

col·lec·tive (k-lktv)

1. Assembled into or viewed as a whole.

2. Of, relating to, characteristic of, or made by a number of people acting as a group: a collective decision.

Judging from this definition, the term “collective” could very well be used to describe an enterprise when seen as a number of people viewed as a whole. Tom Graves recently shared this definition of “enterprise” from the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework via Twitter (@tetradian):

Enterprise: an organization (or cross-organizational entity) supporting a defined business scope and mission. An enterprise includes interdependent resources (people, organizations, and technology) who must coordinate their functions and share information in support of a common mission (or set of related missions).

The expression “collective collaboration” would then describe a situation when all the people in an enterprise, viewed as a whole, work together to support the defined mission of the enterprise, one where employees always have the common good in mind, whatever they do.

This might sound like Utopia; ideal but impracticable. However, the point here is merely that by improving collective collaboration, collaboration that goes beyond ones closest team(s), an enterprise can increase the sum of all contributions to the common good. It is not about achieving an ideal state, but rather about trying to minimize sub-optimization, duplicate work, waste, bad decision making, and so on that come as a result of teams focusing too much on their own goals.

Improving collective collaboration would require that the overall mission is clearly communicated and always present, but also that collective collaboration is reflected in values, objectives, practices and incentive models. This way, it will become a part of the culture of the enterprise. After having worked with IKEA for several years (an enterprise which actually consists of a multitude of organizations), I know how important this is (at the IKEA head office, you can't even go to the bathroom without seeing their mission and values).

The culture also needs to be characterized by participation, openness, trust, and recognition of all contributions by teams and individuals that increase the common good. These, to me, are all core Enterprise 2.0 principles.

In my next post, I will use a number of illustrations to illustrate how collective collaboration can be improved with the help from Enterprise 2.0 technologies.


  1. Not enough space to thoroughly play this out, but the situation you are describing has multiple applications in networking theory and analysis, in which the connections and interactions among multiple nodes can facilitate the sharing of information within and beyond specific team configurations.
    And, needless to say, information technologies can both shape and accelerate these interactions, all within a shared framework of common vision or values.

  2. Thanks for the quote - much appreciated!

    What you're hitting up against here is much the same as we've struggled with in enterprise-architecture: you've managed to break free from 'E2.0=IT', you now need to break free from 'E2.0=the Organisation'. Enterprise-architecture is the architecture of the enterprise, not the organisation; the same distinction needs to apply to E2.0 as well.

    Unfortunately that FEAF definition of 'enterprise' doesn't enough emphasise that in this context the enterprise is always larger than the organisation - it always extends outwards to 'colleagues' (in your diagram), otherwise it's not an 'enterprise', it's just a (literally) narcissistic view of the organisation itself. Often it's easiest to show this extension-beyond-the-organisation as a series of concentric circles (as you've done in the diagram, and as I did in my 'What is an enterprise?' presentation), but in reality the collective is more like a meshwork of intersecting sets, each with their own focus and special interests.

    The linking factor for all of these diverse interests - what makes it into a shared enterprise, in fact - is the common-denominator intersection of all those respective values. This is why clarity on vision and values is so crucial to enterprise-architectures, as they define the shared focus of the enterprise, in exactly the same sense that a set of formal rules defines the bounds of the organisation.

    And it's also the divergence of interests and values that enables collective movement and growth, and prevents a stultifying 'groupthink'. The term 'collaboration' does carry an aura of 'groupthink' about it, of lock-step robot-work; combining it instead with 'collective', as 'collective collaboration', does help to break free of that trap, but perhaps in some ways because the loose anarchic federation of a collective is not as rigidly 'collective' as is the organisation!

    A key problem here is that the enterprise and the organisation are not the same - they have fundamentally different structures, boundaries and responsibilities. Unfortunately, many business-folks would like to believe that they are the same, because it gives a comforting illusion of extending their 'control' (a concept which does make sense within an organisation) out into the enterprise (where attempts at 'control' will guarantee failure). One of the dangers for E2.0 is that it highlights the fact that many of the old notions of 'control' not only are but always have been a dangerous delusion.

    Few people can easily cope with seeing their delusions shattered - hence the often-irrational and overly-defensive responses of many managers to what to us would seem perfectly reasonable uses of E2.0 and the like. Explaining the difference between 'organisation' and 'enterprise', and how they intersect, can often reduce the level of covert emotion, and make it much easier to enable your 'collective collaboration'.

  3. Thank you both for great comments.

    Ken, you are right about there being a clear link to this situation and networking theory and analysis. I am currently working on the second post where I describe how Enterprise 2.0 technologies such as social networking can facilitate collective collaboration.

    Tom, reading your comment made me read the post with new eyes and discover that I used the term "organization" where I should have used the term "enterprise". The case I referred to in the post, IKEA, actually consists of a number of different organizations. What brings these organizations together and makes everybody see it as ONE company is the shared mission, values, and so forth.