Making Collaboration Work

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

Ray Schwemmer and Rick Havrilla are cofounders and, respectively, president/CEO and Chief Technology Officer of CollabraSpace, a software company that develops solutions to integrate people, data, and processes within a single seamless collaborative environment. They are coauthors of a new book, Dynamic Collaboration: How to Share Information, Solve Problems, and Increase Productivity Without Compromising Security. The following interview has been adapted from a recent AMA Edgewise podcast.

AMA: With so much of the general public on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, why do corporations still find it so difficult to collaborate effectively via technology?

Schwemmer: Collaboration tools and capabilities have been around for decades now, starting with chat and kind of growing from there. But these capabilities are geared for people sharing information with friends—not necessarily what is needed inside of a corporation. In business, you have teams of people trying to solve problems and work together to maximize some end result. These tools provide some of those capabilities, but they don't necessarily transpose into the corporate world.

Havrilla: Twitter and Facebook and other social networking sites do have value as far as their functionality in the workforce. It’s just that they haven’t been as easily accessible to everybody because they’re focused on their day-to-day activities, they’re not really getting as much traction as they could be.

AMA: What role does security play in this picture?
Havrilla: Security has a huge role in the corporate environment, because users have the ability to access certain privileged information. The legal department doesn’t want all of their legal documents shared across the enterprise. So there are access controls on various areas of the collaborative environments, and you need to maintain those; but there also needs to be a balance to try to make it as open as possible, because you want people to be engaged to help you solve problems.

Schwemmer: In the corporate world, if your intellectual property ends up on Twitter, you could have a problem because it’s spread around the world so quickly. You can’t use the tools that are out there on the Internet, so people struggle to find ways to bring these tools inside the organization where they are secure.

AMA: In your book, you go out of your way to define this type of technology enabled collaboration as a service, rather than as a product. Why is that?

Schwemmer: What organizations have done is they’ve set up a separate collaborative tool. So if I’m an HR guy, I log into my HR tool and I have to then log into my collaboration tool, and I may not do that because my job function is not collaboration. Then, when others log on, there is not that critical mass to get collaboration going. So if you look at it as a service and you extend that across the enterprise and you actually integrate collaboration into the tools that people use today, you can gain that critical mass very easily. Once you start giving people those capabilities, they will migrate to them just like they do to Facebook, Twitter, and other collaborative capabilities that are out there today.

AMA: What are some of the first steps for a manager who wants to move a team or a company down the dynamic collaboration path?

Schwemmer: The first thing that they need to do is look at how their employees work. The idea is to bring collaboration to the people, as opposed to setting up a separate collaborative environment and forcing people to go to it. They should look at what tools the organization is using today. Let’s say you have one tool that 90% of your people log into every day. If you added collaboration to that tool, you would have 90% of your people connected tomorrow. You might want to look at it and say, “I want to connect the accounting department and the engineering department,” so that the engineers get a better sense of what costs are, or something like that. Then you look at what tools they use, and you add collaboration to both of those tools. When the users log in the next day, they can see who’s online and maybe just chat with them. Then, once people start realizing that other people are online and they can collaborate with them, you can continue to add more and more capabilities to that. However, I think to start with, you really want to connect people together, let them see who else is out there, and then from there they will begin to ask you for more capabilities so that they can collaborate better.

Havrilla: What you really need to do is focus on lowering the barrier to entry into this collaborative environment. Don't think of it as forcing folks to collaborate, but more as having collaborative capability right at their fingertips. The other key item is that presence awareness is king—knowing who’s online, who can help you, and what type of skills they have.

AMA: Isn’t this whole thing an IT problem? Why would non IT managers need to be involved in this at all?

Schwemmer: Every manager wants to improve the performance of the organization and collaboration enables them to do it. The IT piece of it is: what are the best ways to integrate it into how people work? The non IT manager needs to be involved in this to say, “Hey, my organization works this way, and the people need to collaborate with this organization and this organization,” and it needs to be at their fingertips.” Then they can go to the IT department and say, “Make this happen for me.” Too often, what happens today is the IT department sends up a solution and says, “You guys need to figure out how to work within my solution.” That’s backwards.

AMA: How can organizations encourage their employees to adopt collaboration technology?

Havrilla: We’re now used to using IM. We’re used to being on Facebook. We’re used to blasting out our status through something like Twitter. So it’s going to start becoming second nature to be able to use collaborative tools; however, that’s not going to happen unless you put the tools in front of people within the applications they need to use to complete their tasks.

Schwemmer: The key (and we’ve seen this on the social networking sites recently) is to get that critical mass. If you look at how these sites grow, they hit a certain point and then participation just goes through the roof. So in a corporate world, how do you get to that critical mass? We think the key is to basically integrate the collaboration right into the tools people are currently using. So when I log in tomorrow to the same tool I logged into yesterday to do my job, I suddenly see who else in the organization is logged in, and I can start to easily reach out to those people we can help each other do our jobs better. As soon as people start realizing that, the capabilities just seem to take off. 

About The Author

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.