4 Principles for Developing a Digitally Collaborative Culture

| By Terence Brake

A company invests a lot of money in collaboration platforms and tools and - SURPRISE - results are disappointing.  The central premise of the movie Field of Dreams (“Build it and they will come”) has a lot to answer for.  Digital natives might naturally integrate the tools into everyday collaborative work, but we cannot assume too much; they might not use them in ways that add significant value to the business.  Boomers and others may need more encouragement and guidance. 

A technological infrastructure is only the means, not the end.  If we are trying to derive the competitive benefits of borderless enterprise collaboration, we must also develop the cultural infrastructure of core principles and behaviors.  What do I mean by borderless enterprise collaboration: creating value together in digital environments.

Principles and Behaviors

Noted author on digital life and work - Don Tapscott – has described a number of guiding principles for thriving in an increasingly open world that is digital and collaborative. The principles can help us think about the cultures we need to develop for individual and organizational success now and in the foreseeable future.  Here is my brief exploration:

1. Openess Principle: Valuing open minds and open boundaries. 

Some behaviors that support openness:

  • Challenging arbitrary organizational boundaries – explicit and implicit
  • Being approachable (while setting reasonable personal boundaries)
  • Creating cross-boundary networks
  • Bouncing ideas off of other people locally and globally
  • Working closely with key stakeholders
  • Asking instead of assuming
  • Prioritizing listening over talking
  • Valuing differences

2. Transparency Principle: Valuing the visibility of intentions and actions.

Some behaviors that support transparency:

  • Focusing on productivity and problem solving rather than impression management
  • Demonstrating integrity
  • Exercising judgment in balancing transparency and confidentiality
  • Communicating candidly and respectfully
  • Demonstrating that everyone is trusted to think
  • Making visible thinking, actions, and decisions (Working Out Loud)
  • Striving for clarity and accuracy in communications
  • Acknowledging the potential influence of personal biases
  • Resisting any distortion or embellishment of information
  • Demonstrating that speaking up is safe and valued

3. Sharing Principle: Valuing the free sharing of knowledge and ideas.

Some behaviors that support sharing:

  • Encouraging spontaneous as well as formal sharing
  • Sharing the little ideas (improvements) as well as the big ideas (breakthroughs) 
  • Communicating that sharing knowledge is power
  • Acknowledging the value of knowledge gained to meeting business objectives
  • Demonstrating reciprocity in interactions
  • Making knowledge useful as well as interesting
  • Engaging in efforts to make tacit knowledge explicit
  • Using a variety of tools and formats to reach different audiences
  • Asking for and valuing feedback
  • Asking others for help and advice
  • Valuing competence and credibility over status

4. Empowerment Principle: Valuing self-leadership throughout the organization    

Some behaviors that support empowerment:

  • Demonstrating commitment to developing self-awareness and continuous learning
  • Aligning personal goals to organizational goals
  • Focusing attention on solutions and not just problems
  • Seeking to influence decision making processes
  • Accepting accountability for results
  • Demonstrating trust and confidence in others
  • Inviting individuals and crowds to contribute knowledge and ideas
  • Sharing resources across boundaries
  • Practicing inclusion on a daily basis
  • Treating mistakes as learning opportunities

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