by Kai Andrews , Tiffany Dehaan

Why Do Collaboration Solutions Fail?

When everyone in your company is working together, it’s like magic: productivity goes up and so does employee satisfaction. Innovation happens, and so does good change.

But why is that so hard to achieve? Organizations implement collaboration systems and tools to try to get there, but according to Gartner Enterprise Architecture Summit 2013, 90 percent of those business collaboration solutions fail.

Why? We have a theory: many modern organizations think of collaboration as something you can achieve if you simply have the right tool in place. And it’s true that a good tool can facilitate collaboration—but finding the right tools and maximizing their effectiveness in your company is more complex than most people realize.

To increase collaboration successfully, companies need to understand all the factors at play in their environments, from the people working there to the processes and technologies they use to do their jobs.

The Lure of the “Free” Tool

Since it’s easy to download a trial version, set up an account, and start using a tool, it’s tempting to isolate an issue and find a free tool online to solve it. Relying too much on email? Download Slack and start chatting! Having a hard time managing documents? Let’s try Google Drive or a free Dropbox trial!

Unfortunately, all too often, this attempt to solve individual problems ends up doing more harm than good. Free tools will proliferate until you’ve got a different tool for everything—which doesn’t exactly enhance productivity, but rather introduces new challenges:

  • Identifying systems of record for business information
  • Securing sensitive information
  • Managing record retention
  • Delivering tool and process training
  • Failing to align business processes with new tool capabilities
  • Using different tools for the same purpose, since many of these tools can address multiple issues

The results? Information is distributed and possibly duplicated across multiple systems, sensitive information may be shared too freely, and inefficient processes are not addressed—they’ve simply shifted from one tool to another.

Ultimately, after the initial excitement about a new tool has worn off, users become increasingly frustrated and confused because they still can’t find the information they need to do their work and they aren’t clear  which tool they should use for which business process. Focusing only on the tool leads to collaboration chaos.

Getting Back on Track: Strategies for Success

If that sounds familiar, never fear: you can get back on track. First, you must understand that no tool by itself can solve your collaboration problems. The good news is that you can solve them, and the first step is as simple as getting back to basics.

When you’re struggling with how to make your organization more collaborative, start by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What’s the issue you’re trying to solve?
  • What is your collaborative business culture?
  • Are you using the right tool for the job?

We’ll take each of these questions in turn.

Ask the right questions

Start by getting a good understanding of your processes and workflows and identifying the desired collaboration outcomes. Look at each business process to understand how work is getting done and where you may need to change your processes. Are there places where you can weed out redundancy, eliminate steps, or save time? Are the right people doing the work?

Understand the culture

The next step is to assess how your employees operate and behave, so that you can better understand what kind of culture you have. Culture plays a key role in deciding what kind of tool to use—for example, an organization that leverages top-down decision making may see limited adoption of an enterprise social platform to brainstorm new ideas and gain online consensus.

So take a look at your culture to understand how your people behave today. Then ask yourself whether your culture is one of the things that needs to change. Behavior can have more to do with the success or failure of collaboration than any process or tool does. Are your people rewarded for working together? Is there a willingness to change, not just from senior leadership but from the people in the trenches? How much change management are you willing to do?

Use the right tool for the job

Finally, get an understanding of your platform: what kinds of technologies and tools do you use today? When you’re assessing your tools landscape, look at each tool to determine its primary focus: communication, knowledge sharing, content management, or process management.

Once you have that technology inventory, compare the tool capabilities with the desired business process changes and business outcomes. Are they the right tools for the work your organization does? Also evaluate the tools against your desired culture. Do the tools incite and support the desired behaviors?

And don’t forget about enabling good implementation and support practices. All tools require some form of training. Always deploy an integrated team of business users and technical resources to provide ongoing support, since collaborative tools evolve very quickly.

The Bottom Line

To drive effective collaboration in your business, clearly define your business problem and then ask the tough questions about your people, processes, and tools.

You may not need to make changes to all three of those components—but you must take them into consideration when you’re looking to avoid chaos and implement an effective collaborative environment.