How easy is it to collaborate in *your* organisation?

The concept of “work” just isn’t the same as it was ten or twenty years ago.  More and more of us work in geographically dispersed teams, and home working certainly seems more common.  Alongside this, new tools and technologies are emerging which help people to communicate quickly and effectively, wherever they are located.  But why is it some large organisations seem to struggle to adopt simple, cheap and effective tools?

Over the last 18 months, I had the pleasure of taking a voluntary directorship role for a professional association.  Since the organisation was run in our spare time, we collaborated effectively and efficiently using a wide range of technologies – from phone, to on-line conferencing, to online project management software, right through to instant messaging.  We never found it necessary to hire meeting space for our planning meetings;we had meetings in airports, trains, bars and hotels.  We didn’t have a corporate network, so we used file-level encryption on the rare occasions that we needed to share sensitive information.

Is collaboration this easy in your organisation? Many people I speak to tell me it isn’t.  They talk of IT systems that inhibit sharing of information; restrictions on attachment sizes and the blocking of online collaboration tools.  This is often in the name of good security and risk management – and quite rightly so – but as well as stopping the minority of workers who might be doing something they shouldn’t, it should also be recognised that it restricts the huge majority who could be more productive with these tools.  Surely a better approach is to hire staff you trust in the first place and let them use the tools that are right for the job?  The sad fact is, that if someone really wants to steal your data, they’ll probably find a way to do it anyway.

Imagine a world where people could use online collaborative tools that were most appropriate for their project, rather than the default corporate standard.  A world where you didn’t have to struggle to get a meeting room for informal meetings – you just popped into Starbucks, connected to WiFi and gave your informal presentation.  “But what if we’re overheard?”.  Well, if your company’s competitive advantage can be copied based purely on overheard conversations in a coffee shop, then I think your organisation has bigger problems…..

I’m certainly not arguing against corporate, project or IT governance – these are all essential parts of a modern organisation.  It’s just that sometimes the least complex solution may be the best.

Hire great people, let them use the tools they need, and let them innovate.