How to foster Social collaboration at work – Best practices Part 1

Social collaboration at work

Fostering social collaboration at work is an art as well as science. Whether you are a new entrepreneur or an executive in an established company, fostering social collaboration and thereby leading to innovation needs the acceptance of chaos in the initial product development stages.

It is imperative that we avoid making detailed long-term plans but instead focus on the smaller details of users or customers’ needs and wants. We have to allow managerial teams to compete with many alternative designs and projects within a framework of goals and limits to achieve the desired results.

Further, it is a common understanding and perception that small companies foster greater social collaboration at work than large companies. This is not necessarily true. However, there is a lot to learn from the managerial practices of some of the world-class companies on fostering social collaboration at work and innovation. These practices can help other companies and managerial teams to learn and be more socially collaborative.

Firstly, what is social collaboration at work ?

Social collaboration at work is a set of processes where groups of individuals interact with each other to do common goals. The interaction might also be a ‘Brainstorming’ activity where people participate and new ideas emerge out of the participation and contribution.

The word ‘Social collaboration’ is used interchangeably with the terms ‘Enterprise social networking’ and ‘Corporate social networks’.  They all the mean the same processes within workplaces.

However, collaborating socially can also happen outside workplaces as in a public consumer space. Social collaboration in workplaces to get work done happens on a mutual understanding with shared goals. LinkedIn groups are one fine example and so are other Mass collaboration projects (E.g. The development of Linux operation system). We at Work Monkey Labs term this as ‘Social Media Collaboration’.

Please read out blog article Social media collaboration, a synergy in workplaces   to understand more on Social Media Collaboration.

In this article, a first of series on fostering social collaboration, I would like to point out some focus areas, for developing and fostering social collaboration in workplaces.

1.Generate lot of ideas, work on many small projects and select one

Collaborative organizations that foster social collaboration always had different low-cost projects and they frequently experimented with these projects. It is good to respond to what emerges out of this experimentation rather than having one large grand plan.  From experience, what I have seen is that non-collaborative individuals, business units, and companies spend elaborate time on product development and business strategy on one grand idea. They plan the future well.

It is good to plan the future, but it depends on how you plan it. It means, you can plan the dates and other minor details but not on how exactly the implementation would take place. There could be repercussions if the situation or the future scenario did not turn out the way you wanted it to be. Possible is it not?

Best practices from companies

There are best practice companies like Cisco, Google, 3M and Gore who reserve 20 – 30% of their employee’s time for trying out new innovative projects. For example, Keith Sawyer in his book “Group Genius” says that best practice companies like Boeing; keep their engineering and production shop floors open all through the night. Engineers develop prototypes using the shop floor machines and test them during the night hours when the mechanics and technicians have gone for the day. Similarly, Pixar another best practice company and one of the world’s favorite for excellent movies and the best of creative designs, experiment their ideas through short films.

Pixar’s engineers test out their new designs and techniques on these short films. Only those short films, which look promising, are developed as a full-length feature film.  But then the ideas and the techniques used and experimented on the various short films are adopted into future projects.

The World of changing business dynamics

We have to remind ourselves repeatedly that we live in a world of changing business dynamics. It is always good to have many small projects up and running simultaneously with various teams. The business environment might change anytime and the project that we are currently paying attention to might suddenly become obsolete. In these situations, the projects that we put on the backburner as part of our managerial practice and that which is still active might suddenly become the next big thing and you are in a better position to capitalize it.

Create an idea hub or an idea bank within the company

Ideas that have not worked on one initiative or project find their way on to other projects. We would know about it retrospectively. While fostering social collaboration at work it is important, we recognize the initial sparks that failed originally because they can be used elsewhere.

It so happens that when we have many projects running simultaneously, there is every chance that some projects ideas may miss out. Successful social collaboration at work happens when we build those structures in place so that we recognize all the ideas, if not now, at least in the future.

It is for this reason that it is essential that we establish an idea hub, a kind of social collaboration structure or a forum so that we can draw upon the ideas when we need them.

Best practice at Royal Dutch Shell

For example, best practice companies like Royal Dutch Shell have been using such practices from a long time. They have an internal structure called ‘Game changers’ which recognizes ideas from all employees involved.  Six teams, comprising of six employees manage this idea hub and they try out new game-changing ideas. Employees from all over the world, email the idea hub with new ideas.

We need to recognize the fact that most new ideas will not see the light of success. Social collaboration thrives in an organization, which recognizes and cherishes failures as well. History is replete with examples that show that when innovations go up, failures go up as well.

Creating an organization, which nurtures an environment where 20 % of the employee’s time is spent on experimenting new ideas, is essential for social collaboration to thrive.  The managerial teams need to understand that failed projects are not a total failure either. Employees on failed projects need more support and encouragement. Even the projects that have failed have usable knowledge and techniques that will come in useful in the future. Recognition of this fact is important.

We will discuss more with other points on fostering social collaboration at work in the next upcoming parts in this series.


Further resources:

  1. Managing innovation with controlled chaos from HBR – You find the article here
  2. Creativity under the Gun from HBR – You can find the article here






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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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