Collaborative Organization

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Defined by Robert Logan, also the author of the Sixth Language, in his book Collaborate to Compete.


What Is a Collaborative Organization?


A collaborative organization is one that has the following characteristics:

1. The values and objectives of employees and management are aligned,

2. A climate of mutual trust and respect exists,

3. The knowledge of all the staff, customers and suppliers is shared and pooled to optimize the organization's operations and opportunities,

4. Decision making is more decentralized than it is in most current organizations and more stakeholders in the organization play a role in defining the direction in which the organization moves, and

5. Hierarchical structures are kept to a minimum. The company is managed democratically by consensus rather than by command and control. (By consensus we do not mean that every member of the organization was in agreement with every decision, but it does mean that all members of the community were heard and their views were taken into account by those responsible in the organization for making decisions.)


By Bob Logan in the first chapter of his book Collaborate to Compete.

"Collaboration has far-reaching implications for the enterprise-wide culture of an organization. Collaboration, as contrasted to the more circumscribed concept of teamwork, cuts across organizations, divisions, departments and working groups. It also involves more than just cooperation; it requires the ability and willingness to creatively share ideas and knowledge and to create new knowledge with others. And this is the crux of the problem, because it is hard for individuals to do this when they still believe that "knowledge is power" and they hoard their knowledge."

The Challenge of Collaboration

"In the collaborative organization, the workplace is a community where people trust each other, share similar values and respect each other. Given the realities of today's corporate environment, our definition of collaboration creates a major organizational challenge.

But we are confident that by embracing the paradigm of collaboration companies will experience improved efficiencies and greater profitability. Here's one example of how:

"The Documentum content management system is making it easier for DuPont engineers, designers, contractors and others, both inside and outside the enterprise, to perform their jobs effectively and to collaborate efficiently with one another. The end result is faster time to completion for new plants and other projects, which contributes to competitive market advantage and significantly increased cost savings for the company's bottom line" (, 2003).

We predict that companies that do not become more collaborative with their managers, employees, customers, suppliers and alliance partners will not survive in the Internet era. We realize that the sophisticated reader has already heard something like this before, when similar claims were made for TQM, BPR and other formulae that turned out to be just another fad. So why do we think this is different? The answer is that the essence of a company is collaboration, as opposed to individuals working on their own. It is interesting that it is only within the past few years that people have begun to recognize the importance of collaboration and how it incorporates the whole spirit of commerce or doing things together." (

Why the Internet Creates a Natural Environment for Collaboration

"The Internet affects business today in every sector in ways that are only beginning to be understood. The foundational relationships between a business and its customers and suppliers, other businesses and even its competitors, has already evolved through radical changes that weren't even conceivable just a few short years ago. And more significant changes are coming, brought about by the use of the Internet as the new, ubiquitous language medium of two-way communication between any business and its customers and between businesses themselves.

Companies are using the Internet to realize new efficiencies that lower costs, thereby making them more competitive, and to increase their level of customer support, hence increasing the level of their collaboration with their customers. Customers now have the expectation that they should receive immediate answers to questions they have about the supplier's services and products, online information, online support and the facility for online ordering. Some customers would like to participate in the design of the next generation of products or services of their supplier (customer as customizer). Companies are using the Internet to create new business opportunities for themselves by pooling their knowledge and interests with the knowledge and interests of their customers.

The creation of a collaborative culture within an organization makes collaboration between businesses and organizations more feasible. But, because the rapid improvement of the technology is so dazzling, we are often blinded to the critical psychological and organizational cultural issues to which the new media give rise. These are the areas on which we focus our analysis in this book; these are also the areas that lead us to the conclusion that the Internet not only makes collaboration possible, it demands that a company be collaborative to succeed and thrive in the burgeoning Internet world of knowledge-savvy customers." (

The Obstacles to Collaboration

"Knowledge management systems have been organized to achieve the collaborative goal, but have only met with partial success as documented by Lucier and Torsilieri (2001): "Knowledge management fails to deliver significant results. Across the 108 companies we studied, we found no correlation between systematic management of knowledge and improved bottom-line performance. That is, we found that companies with extensive knowledge management programmes were not more likely to achieve bottom-line performance than companies without extensive knowledge management initiatives." These researchers did find some companies where KM initiatives did pay off. "Buckman Labs captured value by identifying and measuring relationships between investments enabling collaboration and sharing, time spent with customers, rapid problem resolution, sales from new products and overall growth." In other words a focus on collaboration, especially with customers so as to meet their needs, results in KM initiatives having a positive impact on the bottom line.

In terms of technology, it is not all that difficult to set up a knowledge network to facilitate knowledge sharing and knowledge co-creation. The challenge is to get managers, employees, suppliers and customers to actually use these systems. The problem is one of company culture, especially trust and the attitude of employees, often attitudes the employees bring to their organization based on their prior experiences.

Traditionally our education system has emphasized individual accomplishment and learning in a highly competitive environment in which students are graded and ranked. For most students their ability to find satisfactory employment and enjoy financial success depends on their ability to do well in school, which does not necessarily entail deep learning, but rather scoring well on tests and competing successfully with their classmates. Once these former competitors are employed they find themselves in a similar environment of competition. Now they must compete with their co-workers for the prestigious, more important and higher salaried positions within their organization. They quickly discover that personal knowledge and information is power, and that if they wish to advance their careers it is probably better to keep what they know to themselves.

Not only does the competitiveness of the former students add to an environment of mistrust, the organization itself, through its actions, adds to the level of mistrust. This is partly due to the nature of a free market economy in which the organization must think in terms of defending itself from its competitors. This adversarial mind-set adds to the general lack of trust within the organization. Another factor adding to mistrust in the business world is the massive amount of downsizing that has characterized most organizations in recent years, which has contributed to employees' mistrust of their employers. As a result, employees often put their own personal career goals way ahead of the needs of their company. This is reflected in the large staff turnover that many companies experience. The lack of trust operates in both directions. Because of the difficulty in retaining staff, companies create, and then exacerbate, a vicious cycle by not investing enough in their employees' professional development, which would build a greater atmosphere of trust.

The lack of trust, endemic in the culture of most companies, is the single biggest obstacle to creating a collaborative organization. Rodgers and Banerjee, in a white paper written for J.D. Edwards, concur with our judgment: "Although technology shortcomings are a significant hurdle to true collaboration, the biggest medium-term barriers to evolving a collaborative commerce strategy will be cultural and organizational. At an organizational level, successful collaboration is built on the principle of trust." (, 2003)

When a climate of trust is created within an organization, by no means an easy thing to do, the cultural barriers can be overcome. It is for these reasons that the focus of this book is on the human issues of trust and cultural adaptation, and not on the technical issues of the deployment of IT. Technology will not be ignored, but where we do talk about the technology, it is to show how technology can be used to create community, trust, the alignment of personal and corporate values and objectives, and a spirit of collaboration within the organization." (

The Book

Book: Jacob Morgan. The Collaborative Organization

“Jacob Morgan shares his insights as well as real-world examples how concepts and technologies for emergent collaboration can be used by organizations to solve concrete business problems and to find new ways to create value together as an organization. It is probably the first book on the subject of Enterprise 2.0 / Social Collaboration that has been written by a digital native.” (


What made you write the book?

"It’s interesting, I was asked this question by a few people and it really comes down to two things.

The first is that I believe collaboration can make the world a better place. When organizations invest in collaboration tools and strategies it not only positively impacts the lives of employees at work but also outside of work. Employees will have more flexible work environment’s, be less stressed out about work, will get into less arguments with their spouses, and will feel more passionate and engaged about the work they do. This is a very powerful thing and is in my opinion the first time where organizations have the opportunity to invest in enterprise software and strategies that have such a profound and widespread positive impact. We spend a lot of time focusing on how we can make our employees more productive at work but this goes beyond that, this extends to positively impacting lives, and that’s far more meaningful.

The notion of collaboration making the world a better place isn’t really enough for executives, so in order to turn that idea into an action it needed to be supported by clear business value and a strategy, that is what the book does.

The second is that business leaders and executives today have a lot of questions around collaboration which aren’t being addressed and there are lots of topics which aren’t being touched. Issues such as how to evaluate and mitigate risk, where to get started with everything (imagine a large company with 200k employees, where do they begin?), how should vendors be evaluated and selected, how should these initiatives be marketed internally, how should teams be structured and governance applied and many others.

I consistently received emails and phone calls from people who were looking for resources around these things and none existed, so I decided to fill a major gap by writing this book and covering many of the issues and questions which leaders and executives need to know about but that nobody is addressing. The book is filled with plenty of examples, models, and data which should prove to be quite valuable.

  • Which are the most concrete steps an organization can take in order to support emergent collaboration?

I’m never a fan of a prescriptive approach to collaboration since it’s hard to provide the concrete steps across the board. However, I do think that there are 12 principles of collaboration which can be applied to virtually every organization.

   Individual benefit is just as important as the overall corporate benefit (if not more important)
   Strategy before technology
   Listen to the voice of the employee
   Learn to get out of the way
   Lead by example
   Integrate into the flow of work
   Create a supportive environment
   Measure what matters
   Adapt and evolve
   Employee collaboration also benefits the customer
   Collaboration can make the world a better place

These are expanded upon further in a recent article I wrote called The 12 Principles of Collaboration.

  • How do you suggest that we should address the ever so common situation where there is no clear ownership of collaboration practices and/or tools, or where there is no enterprise-wide strategy and common governance of collaboration efforts? Do you see any changes coming and if so what kind of changes?

Fortunately I think organizations have gotten much better in this area. Collaboration practices from many companies I am speaking with are typically being owned by established teams that comprise various employees and existing roles. These initiatives though are being led by anyone ranging from the CEO to someone in internal communications or HR. Although the teams are being formed and I am seeing a bit more structure around ownership, the challenge for many of these companies is that they don’t know what questions to ask and are oftentimes unsure of how to move forward. This is why it was so important to write this book, to be able to guide people on what to do and how to do it.

Although I believe organizations have gotten better in this area I can’t say that this applies to the majority of companies as I still come across plenty of examples where there is no ownership and no team; in these situations the organization knows that something needs to be done to formalize a collaboration initiative but again doesn’t know where to start or how to do it." (