Content collaboration: A smart way to drive business growth

Today’s important business decisions require a team of experts, not just the vision of a single stakeholder. When teamwork feels inefficient and risky, it usually means that the organization hasn’t fully developed a definition of what it means to foster a collaborative culture. Content collaboration should transcend siloed departments, separated offices and, for large organizations, international boundaries. When organizations can pull expertise from wherever it resides within a broad structure, they increase efficiency and boost productivity.

A new report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services surveyed 491 professionals from disparate industries, functional areas and geographies to form an accurate picture of how collaboration is valued today.

Though 81 percent of survey respondents said that internal and external collaboration is very important to their organizations’ success, less than half have been able to achieve their goals of creating better customer experiences, engaging their workforces or achieving higher productivity.

Collaboration for its own sake isn’t enough to drive business growth. Efforts to improve collaboration must take into account the unique needs of individual projects and tasks. Traditional cookie-cutter solutions forced into multifaceted business challenges rarely succeed, and when they do, it’s often in spite of the constrictions they introduce and not because of actual collaborative breakthroughs.

Take email, for instance — an important communication tool, to be sure. But for many teams, it can  quickly become a confusing maze of unrelated information, not a communication tool and certainly not an effective environment for collaboration.

Organizations that strive to rise above their competitors shouldn’t allow their workforce to get bogged down in technology that was never designed for the modern workplace. As industries change, they must adapt.

Technology adoption should be purposeful

The way we work changes all the time. A snapshot of organizations in 2017 reveals that business leaders understand that operating models are changing and they know there are benefits to moving with the tide of new technology. Over the past three years, 69 percent of organizations increased cooperation among co-workers in multiple locations or departments, 66 percent experienced a faster pace of work and shorter deadlines and 64 percent adapted to new business and/or operating models. These areas of improvement continue to be a high priority for 71 percent of organizations.

What do businesses hope to achieve by improving collaboration? It’s clear that the majority of organizations value a collaborative working culture, but it’s not readily apparent what aspects of that specific  culture they value most.

Of the surveyed businesses, 54 percent named evolving business models as their top motivator for increasing collaboration between siloed departments. Changing customer expectations (41 percent), faster pace of business (38 percent) and an increasingly dispersed workforce (31 percent) account for other top motivators.

Though many organizations may understand their need for improving collaboration, existing operational models hamper forward progress. In fact, 67 percent of survey respondents cited the siloed structure of their businesses as a key barrier to increased collaboration. Risk aversion from senior management (35 percent) and concern about a loss of top-down control (32 percent) are also prominent limiting factors.

The definition of collaboration changes over time

What does it take to develop a truly collaborative business culture? Let’s benchmark industry standards and explore what kind of strategies will work best to achieve far-reaching goals.

First, let’s look at what type of collaborative technologies organizations currently use:

  • Email/calendaring: 90 percent.
  • Voice/telephone: 78 percent.
  • Remote access tools: 77 percent.
  • Messaging/chat tools: 74 percent.
  • Document sharing: 73 percent.
  • Video conferencing: 73 percent.
  • Web conferencing: 71 percent.
  • Project and task management tools: 52 percent.
  • Cloud file sync and sharing tools: 51 percent.
  • Enterprise social networks: 44 percent.

Next, let’s assess what business leaders find most important to create a collaborative workplace:

  • Senior management participation: 64 percent.
  • Senior management support: 53 percent.
  • Access to data and feedback from other departments: 42 percent.
  • State-of-art communication and document sharing: 37 percent.
  • Input from workforce: 37 percent.
  • Flatter/open/matrix organizational structure: 32 percent.
  • Remote access to data and interaction: 28 percent.
  • Team workrooms with digital tools: 26 percent.

This data reveals that senior leaders should take an active role in the development of a collaborative culture and also shows a lack of emphasis on new technologies. Though email and calendaring tools are ubiquitous, advanced cloud-based solutions are still out of reach for nearly half of all organizations. Without those tools, leadership involvement can only count for so much. The motivation is there, but the means to succeed is not.

Content collaboration is a means to an end

As with any business innovation, forward progress should be achieved with purpose. Survey respondents named the following as their most important potential outcomes from collaboration:

  • Improved customer experience: 69 percent.
  • A more engaged workforce: 59 percent.
  • Greater efficiency: 55 percent.
  • Improve organizational excellence: 55 percent.
  • Competitive advantage: 54 percent.
  • Increased agility: 54 percent.
  • More agile/accurate decision making: 53 percent.
  • Higher productivity: 53 percent.
  • Greater innovation and product/service development: 52 percent.

In an increasingly crowded marketplace, each of these drivers could very well contribute to business growth – but it’s up to individual organizations to determine which goal they should invest in relative to the others. Compared to similar competitors, 35 percent of organizations feel they are slightly or well behind in terms of their workforces’ ability to collaborate. However, pushing resources in that direction can, as shown above, drive efficiencies across the board.

As collaboration improves, business models naturally evolve, changing daily workflows and even the very structure of the organization in question. Indeed, 36 percent of respondents said that increasing collaboration efforts allowed for more remote work, while 38 percent claimed it broadened communication channels. Likewise, 32 percent said the decision to become more collaborative fostered group decision-making.

The benefits of improved content collaboration are there to see. The technology to achieve collaboration goals is there, too. Now, it’s up to organizations to utilize those solutions to fuel growth in meaningful ways.