This is the final post in an enterprise collaboration series, in which we explore how knowledge workers, IT departments and business leaders can boost productivity, increase efficiency and transform their organizations with the power of collective wisdom.

Since communication app Slack launched in February 2014, it has gained significant attention for a number of reasons*, including the fact that it seems to be the closest any company has come to providing a solution for one of the biggest challenges in business today—finding a true collaboration/communication system that’s easily integrated with existing software, enterprise-friendly, cloud-based, simple to use and manage, automatically archived and searchable, and nothing at all like email.

Slack may be getting a big chunk of the attention, but it’s not the only company trying to come up with a solution that sticks. In recent years, Microsoft, Google and a swarm of startups have launched collaboration-focused tools and services.

Communication/collaboration app Slack, which integrates with 100 other tools and services, has been gaining attention in the last year. Image:

While many of these systems have merit, none of them have provided an easy solution for collaboration’s greatest obstacle: how to bring about the cultural, behavioral and procedural changes that are necessary to realize collaboration’s real value. That part takes work.

And it’s work that cannot be avoided. In an April blog post, Microsoft’s Bryan Goode noted that “with 40 percent or more of the U.S. workforce projected to be made up of contingent or independent workers by 2020, people will increasingly use networks to form teams of experts on-demand and dynamically ‘swarm’ around projects and then disperse to the next.”

How then can business leaders approach the challenge? Here’s a start:

1. Begin by reading Charlene Li’s Why No One Uses the Corporate Social Network, which was published in April in Harvard Business Review. Li is the founder and CEO of the Altimeter Group and the author of a number of books, including Groundswell (2006) and The Engaged Leader (2015). In her HBR post, Li recalls a session she led with executives of a Silicon Valley tech company, who brought her in to help them figure out why employee use of a recently implemented collaboration platform was dwindling.

After speaking with the executives, Li identified the cause: “The problem was simple and obvious—because the top executives didn’t see collaboration and engagement as a good use of their time, employees quickly learned that they shouldn’t either.”

According to Li, leadership participation is essential for collaboration. In her article, she offers three tips for business leaders looking to improve collaboration in their business: “Listen at scale, share to shape, and engage to transform.”

2. Learn about the “working out loud” movement and embrace it. According to John Stepper, author of the book Working Out Loud, the approach includes making work visible, making it better, leading with generosity, building a social network, and making it all purposeful. (Read The 5 Elements of Working Out Loud for a more detailed description of his definition.)

The effort that’s required to create a truly collaborative workplace is the same for any significant business transformation—providing end-users with the right tools and expert instruction goes a long way, but if leadership is not on board, the effort will probably fail.

*Slack’s rapid growth is also notable. As of June 24, 2015, the 16-month-old company has 1.1 million users, 300,000 paid subscribers, and integrates with 100 other tools and services like Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, IFTTT, MailChimp, Twitter, Wunderlist, Zendesk and more.


ALSO IN THE SERIES: Collaborating in near-time: The business benefits of asynchronous communication technology | A syncing feeling: How synchronous communication technology benefits business | Come together, right now… over lunch?: What it really means to collaborate and why every company should care | Using what you’ve got: Knowledge-Centered Support systems capitalize on IT’s greatest asset | A swarming trend: Why IT’s shift from tiered support to a collaborative, customer-focused model is good for the end-user, and for IT

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