Summary:

An important but often unacknowledged issue surrounding collaborative business is that while companies will focus on choosing tools, prescribing acceptable network policies and measuring ROI, the easiest way to get staff to collaborate is to make it fun. But what makes collaboration fun?

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Remember when collaborating was fun?

The news that Google’s staff bonuses now depend on the success of its new +1 social rank tool — and Mathew’s observation that “you can’t threaten people into being social” — brings to the fore an important but often unacknowledged issue surrounding collaborative business: While businesses focus on choosing tools, prescribing acceptable network policies and measuring ROI, the easiest way to get staff to collaborate is, well, to make it fun.

One organization I worked with last year used an internal social network that was literally devoid of any humor or personality whatsoever. Try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to use it, and I wasn’t the only one. Who wants to “engage” when there’s nothing but a constructed corporate persona to engage with?

If you want staff to collaborate productively with one another, your suppliers, peers or customers, the simplest way is to make it fun.

You may think that’s unrealistic; a non-essential element in the cut-and-thrust of today’s heady business competition. But the fact remains that it’s the easiest way to get staff to work together.

What makes collaboration fun?

Human Contact

Collaboration is fun because we do it with others. Online collaboration helps us very efficiently avoid the tyranny of distance, which is equally great for making disparate teams feel closer, and for allowing us to learn from people we’ll never get a chance to meet.

We all know the kick that comes from engaging with someone we admire — albeit at a distance — over Twitter or Facebook. That thrill is echoed every day in good collaborative exchanges within teams.

Personalities

Personalities can make or break the collaborative effort. Evolving team member disagreements and friendships all have their impacts on the collaborative fun factor.

Establish your collaborative space as a supportive, open platform on which individuals’ unique aspects are welcome, and your staff will likely have more fun there.

A Shared Goal or Direction

Being part of something bigger than the individual is a key motivator for many collaborators. Most of us want to belong, and belonging involves sharing. Shared experience—especially the overcoming of collective challenges, and the achievement of common goals—strengthens team bonds and supports future collaborative efforts.

Think of the people you love collaborating with on work projects. They’re probably people who share your passion for the work, and who can communicate that enthusiasm equally well through in-person or online exchanges.

Learning, Contribution and Recognition

For most professionals, a key personal motivation for collaboration is the opportunities it provides to learn from peers, contribute to the collaborative effort, and be recognized for the good work we do by people we admire.

That cycle of mutual respect, admiration and knowledge exchange is self-perpetuating. Valuable, rich collaborative relationships usually continue even when team members change employers, and no longer have access to in-house collaborative systems.

The Payoff

If you’re thinking, “that’s fine and all, but it sure sounds like a lot of fun,” you’re right. But remember: more fun means stronger staff engagement, more effective collaboration, and greater productivity.

If your organization is one of those that’s still worried about the potential for staff to “spend all their time on social networks,” it’s way past time to join the age of social business. Engaging with staff about the networks they enjoy, and considering the ways they could be used to enrich workplace collaboration might be a good first step towards making your organization more collaborative and effective.

Teams that don’t collaborate well should assess their operation on the basis of the elements mentioned here. Certain tools may help you overcome specific collaborative issues, but the astute team leader will consider each possible solution in light of its potential to enhance the collaborative fun factor—knowing that more fun will likely lead to a greater ROI.

Does your organization support fun within its collaborative approach?

Image courtesy tam_oliver.

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