Collaboration models – how do we get the most out of them? 

If collaboration is defined as the action of working with someone to produce something, then a collaboration model could be described as a framework which facilitates the action of working together. The advent of flexible working arrangements and a mobile workforce means collaboration models are at the forefront of productive work environments.  Defining a collaboration model, however, remains ambiguous for many as it can mean different things in different environments.

An intranet is a common collaboration model used to improve business efficiency. It’s specifically designed to engage users with capabilities such as shared workspaces, joint document authoring, chat facilities, wikis, instant messaging and dynamic content generation.  Depending on the level of functionality, an intranet collaboration model can be both synchronous – online chat, video meetings, joint document authoring – and asynchronous – workflow, shared workspaces and wikis.

Social media is the ultimate model of collaboration – it harnesses the power of many like nothing else. The crowdsourcing of new product ideas using platforms like Facebook or Twitter is an example of collaborative models used in marketing.  In a research context citizen science has enabled global collaborative research, with eBird a great example of how collaboration has revolutionised science by collaboratively mapping bird migration patterns across the world.  In a business context, social media is ideal for promoting business directly to customers.  Sentiment analysis based on Twitter feeds has provided incredible insights for businesses looking to understand and build on customer intent.

A collaboration model such as an enterprise social network has the potential to improve the sharing and capture of knowledge within an organisation by combining social networking capabilities and business process.  This model attempts to promote the sharing of both intrinsic and extrinsic information and ideas and stimulate innovation within an organisation.

Collaboration models do not only occur in the digital environment. Consider physical partnerships or alliances, collaboration through a public consultation process, musicians jamming together to create music or the crowdsourcing of research. These are all models to garner a joint intellectual effort through relationships and sharing.

I have worked with many of these examples, some successful and some not so. Regardless of the context or format, the traits of successful collaboration models are always the same:

  • Pre-planning – selecting a collaboration model or combination of models that meet your requirements, understanding why and what you hope to achieve.
  • A framework of governance – clear roles and responsibilities and some basic rules around what is acceptable and what is not.
  • An idea of what success looks like and a method to measure it.
  • Ongoing management, review and adjustment.

The concept of a collaboration model is not new, but the methods of engaging are changing and expanding with novel tools and technologies. The focus will always be about connecting with others and sharing information – extending your reach, achieving more with less effort, capturing knowledge and new innovations are all bonuses.

Michelle Teis

Consulting Director/ Principal Consultant