Measure The Collaboration That’s Already Going On

nGenera has been thinking about, writing about, and doing primary research about collaboration long enough to understand that “collaborate” is not a command, it’s a culture, a climate inside an organization that requires more thinking about what really needs to be done and the outcomes than just more doing stuff together (the doing is the result of the thinking). A good example of collaboration, IMO, is the USAF Knowledge Now Program, where 300,000 people (about half the Air Force population) voluntarily contribute both knowledge and questions and answers across time zones to accomplish “the mission,” which means both the overarching mission of the Air Force and whatever specific mission needs to be done (building an armory in the middle of Iraq).

Most of roles I’ve ever had in organizations have been, on a day-to-day basis, collaborative, so, in my experience, collaboration is not something new, despite the current popular urgency around it. What seems to be the chief hang-up for organizations is that collaboration is a “soft” activity that’s hard to measure and thus hard to justify putting resources into. We at nGenera have done some good research on collaboration ROI and how to measure it, but I have a suggestion: Stop looking for new metrics and measure what’s actually going on now in your organization. Your workforce is already working together, you just aren’t paying attention to the right things.

After more years of working than I want to acknowledge (my “career” is only anecdotal data, of course), I know that the vast majority of people want to share what they know (because that is often reward enough), collaborate every day with colleagues (though they might not label it collaboration), and are more than willing to surrender some control or autonomy in the expectation that others are doing the same and the outcome is better than anything they could do alone.

I think the “data” will show that your collaboration culture only needs some room to breathe; it’s already there in many parts of your organization and one good way to show it is in stories told by the people who are doing the work. Randy Adkins, who helped get AFKN off the ground, says AFKN success “metrics” are found in the stories people tell of how working together accomplished the mission. “We survey our community owners regularly, but the best impacts result from an award program that we have in place where communities tell their ‘stories,’ many of which demonstrate significant productivity gains. While it is not possible to roll them up in an overall number, the individual facts are very compelling.”

Does this make sense to you: finding, paying attention to, and measuring the collaborative activity that’s already going on in your organization? Looking for stories of collaboration as proof of its value?

But, if you must measure, here is something I found this week, a blog post on Cisco’s site that references studies on collaboration ROI: I have not been able to find the Salire Partners report, but the Frost & Sullivan report, sponsored by Cisco and Verizon, can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure: I posted pretty much this same message last year on the nGenera internal site. I still believe it makes sense.