Matching Technology Tools to Collaboration Style
By Danuta McCall

Posted May 04, 2014

I just read an interesting article published by eminent consulting firm McKinsey & Company entitled “Using technology to improve workforce collaboration” (authors James Manyika, Kara Sprague and Lareina Yee). Click here to take a look at the article, or read on for what struck me as interesting take-aways.

A new class of worker: the Collaboration Worker

The authors recast the workforce sector known as Knowledge Workers (a venerable term coined by Peter Drucker in the mid 20th century) in terms of what most non-production or transaction workers do: collaborate to solve problems, nurture ideas, serve customers and engage with partners. Their research reveals that “the performance gap between top and bottom companies in collaboration-intense sectors is nine times that of production- or transaction-intense sectors”. It follows then that productivity improvements in this sector of the workforce could have a significant impact on the bottom line. As we have a plethora of collaboration tools available to us today, we’ve got ourselves a real opportunity to nail this one. Right? Yes (the article describes how Cisco saved more than $100 million in travel and business expenses and increased productivity by 78 percent), and it’s not quite that simple.

The authors have identified 12 types of knowledge workers based on how they collaborate. From an implementation standpoint, the advantage to this is two-fold: first, you now have a way of comparing productivity measures apples-to-apples; and second, you have a logical basis for evaluating which types of technology will actually benefit the workflows assigned to a given category of collaboration worker (and hopefully minimize the situations where new tools are given to people because…well… seems like they ought to be useful?)

Wasting Time Comes In Many Flavors

We know that it’s challenging to get a handle on productivity measures in the knowledge-based workplace as contrasted with the production or transaction based workplace (where you can speed up transactions or produce more widgets). What I found interesting is that the authors approached this once again from a granular analysis of the different types of collaboration activity and came up with 10 distinct categories of wasted effort in collaboration. For example, wasted effort involved in hand-offs (Motion) is distinct from effort wasted in interpreting communications or artifacts (Interpretation) or locating information (Searching). As with the collaboration workflows, this differentiation can help us be more precise in our evaluation of which technologies will really have an impact. An interesting example involves the misuse of technology: Translation inefficiencies result from having information contained in too many digital media – PowerPoint slides, videos, emails, chats, web pages or document files that then need to be translated or transported to a common place.

The Right Tool Suite for the Job

The authors claim that their research has allowed them to define benchmarks that identify the best way to perform collaboration tasks. The article contains an entertaining interactive exhibit that matches the appropriateness of different web collaboration technologies to the various types of collaboration workers in the format of a “tag cloud” (familiar to all of you who blog). Each technology tool varies in size depending on how suitable it is to the job at hand. Take a look.

Conspicuous in its absence, however, is the technology known as EMS (electronic meeting software) or GDSS (Group Decision Support Systems). This type of web-based tool looks to support collaboration workers in the decision making process itself, i.e., the generation, capture, evaluation, prioritization and selection of ideas. Not only do these tools mitigate many areas of waste, but they increase the quality of interactions and the output of ideas.

If I were to add GDSS/EMS to the interactive tool clouds for each of these workers, it would look like this:

Here’s what the authors seem to suggest as a path forward:
Step 1. Classify your workers in terms of their collaboration profiles, not their job titles. Understand which collaboration workflows are the value-add ones.
Step 2. Within these high value workflows, identify areas of collaboration inefficiency that represent the low-hanging opportunities to increase productivity.
Step 3. Implement a portfolio of appropriate collaboration tools. Provide organizational support and incentives to workers to adopt those tools that make sense for them. Arguably, some technologies should become corporate standards, but others should remain discretionary.

Posted by Danuta McCall