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Insight: Why disciplined collaboration needs flexible tools

08 Jun 2016

Article by Charlie Wood,  the APAC managing director at Dropbox

Collaboration brings with it many benefits to the table for an organisation, but it does require a cohesive set of protocols and procedures be put in place for it to be successfully managed.

Among the most important decisions for effective management of collaboration is an agreed set of IT tools for use by those involved in a collaborative project, whether it is a project being undertaken within an organisation or between different organisations.

In his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, management professor Morten T Hansen identified the need for “disciplined collaboration”. 

“Leaders who pursue disciplined collaboration never lose sight of this dictum: collaboration is a means to an end, and that end is great performance,” Hansen writes.

Hansen runs the ruler over the potential costs and benefits of collaboration in coming up with a framework for how management can tame the sometimes unruly beast of collaborative projects. He provides a sobering assessment when he says no collaboration is preferable to bad collaboration.

One of the essential elements of imposing discipline on collaboration projects is to ensure everyone working on a project is on the same page when it comes to sharing data, following workflows or communicating with each other. If not established from the outset, a collaborative project will soon falter as a result of the confusion and waste brought about by people simply being unable to integrate their respective contributions into a unified field of operations. 

A Deloitte report estimated the value of collaboration to the Australian economy could be put at about $46 billion, though it says the potential value could be up to $10 billion more if time-saving and quality measures were improved. 

The report also noted companies that prioritise collaboration are:

  • Five times more likely to experience a considerable increase in employment
  • Twice as likely to be profitable
  • Twice as likely to outgrow competitors.

As companies continue to search for greater return on investment on their projects and to bring new products and services to the market, the need for smarter collaboration will become ever more urgent. 

Managers need solutions that let people get on with their work with a minimum of fuss. Instead of having to provision some complex technology or have everyone sign up to a potentially difficult or expensive platform, teams should be able to adopt applications with which they are already familiar and are using in their daily work routine. This minimises the additional burdens of implementation and training.

Ideally, such applications should allow people to simply share and collaborate on any document type, any format, over any device and over any connection, globally and in real-time; a concept which sits at the heart of product development at Dropbox.

Of course adopting such applications requires they meet certain standards of utility along the lines of security, privacy and user experience. This is part of the “discipline” required in provisioning an IT infrastructure that will encourage and foster collaboration between teams and individuals.

The provisioned technology for collaborative projects needs to be secure, stable, user-friendly, and results-oriented. It needs to foster effective interactions in the virtual and physical space.

In terms of security, the application should provide such features as the ability to remote wipe files from lost or stolen devices. It should also feature password protection and two-step authentication as part of its security armour, along with expiring links as an added layer of security for when access to data is required on a temporary basis, which can often be the case in collaborative projects.

The stability of the application is important because it provides an underlying sense of confidence to users. Features such as unlimited file recovery and unlimited file version history help to reassure users that their work is always available and retrievable even across company or group lines. 

Ease of use ensures an application is readily adopted, if it is not already widely used. The flexibility of an application is enhanced by such features as clean admin functions that make it a straight-forward task to manage accounts and groups.

Another feature that improves the user experience is third-party app integrations. This adds a vast range of possibilities to the ways in which an app is used and the environments in which it can be used. Applications that draw on a strong API ecosystem tend to provide this flexibility, which is crucial in regard to the nature of collaboration and innovation. 

Rigid applications not only place restrictions on what can be done by users, but also on what users can imagine they can get done. Collaboration is in large part about the need to encourage innovation. Applications that work as part of an API ecosystem tend to open up new ways for people to think about tasks and obtain results.

Collaboration is now an everyday part of the modern work experience. Some of it takes place within the reasonably controlled confines of an organisation, but increasingly it also takes place in environments containing several parties. Making collaboration a productive even enjoyable activity is possible when the right controls are in place and a disciplined approach is taken. A key part of that approach is making sure the underlying IT for a project gives participants the security and flexibility required to achieve results.

Article by Charlie Wood,  the APAC managing director at Dropbox. 

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