The Keys to Successful Collaboration: Purpose and Context

By Alan Lepofsky

Collaboration can be challenging. Here’s how to make it work.

Raise your hand if you have collaboration in your job title. No one? I didn’t think so. People don’t go to work with the mission of “Let’s collaborate.” They go to work to make products or provide services, market them, sell them, and support them. Of course collaboration plays a big part in the success of these areas by empowering teams to work together to accomplish a common goal. That could be anything from brainstorming a product idea, to planning an event, to creating an account plan for winning the largest deal your company has ever had.

But there are challenges with collaboration. In many organizations employees feel overwhelmed by the plethora of legacy collaboration tools that have been rolled out, one on top of the other, year after year. There’s email, chat, office suites, file sharing, web conferencing, task management, and a dozen others. Each has a different look and feel, and often they are not connected to each other. Having to navigate this maze of tools leads to missed opportunities, duplication of effort, errors, and frustration. We call this suboptimal way of working a Culture of Stagnation. In this type of environment teams struggle to work together, decisions are hard to make, processes are cumbersome and slow, and getting work done is challenge.

But what if people didn’t have to use so many applications in order to get their job done? What if they didn’t have to switch back and forth between different platforms, copying and pasting data, duplicating effort, and making mistakes? What if they could work together, right within the business workflows they already know?

Well they can, and we call this a Culture of Action. A Culture of Action is a new workstyle for the digital age emphasizing collaboration and empowerment so teams can get more done and make meaningful contributions every day. A Culture of Action leads to more decisive and productive employees, happier customers, and faster growth.

In order to support a Culture of Action, tools need to take a different approach to collaboration than the tools of the past. Two key elements of this modern approach are purpose and context.

Purpose Drives Adoption

While there are countless collaboration tools out there, many of them suffer from poor adoption, meaning they get deployed but people don’t use them. Why? Because people are not sure which processes, workflows, or use cases the tool is best suited for. If a tool’s purpose is clear, then people will understand why, when, and how they should use it. This is called “purposeful collaboration,” where people work together within the workflow of a core business process they already know.

One of the ways to ensure purposeful collaboration is to provide templates for specific business scenarios. Instead of starting with a blank slate, people can have their work structured with pre-populated content, helping them work quickly and consistently. It’s these use cases, or specific purposes, that make it easy for teams to successfully work together to accomplish their goals. Those use cases can range from collaboratively taking meeting notes to keep everyone aligned, to organizing every aspect of event or conference planning (my favorite use case!), to the intricate processes sales professionals follow for creating account plans, taking meeting notes, responding to RFPs, and coordinating pricing plans.

Context Ensures Efficiency and Accuracy

Another barrier to successful collaboration is that employees are overwhelmed with too much information, spread out across too many tools or channels. They don’t know where to go, where to post, where to respond. Well what if the problem was not actually the quantity of information and tools, but the lack of context? What if instead of jumping back and forth between disconnected tools teams could access only the specific things needed for that moment, all in a single place? This is called “contextual collaboration.”

With contextual collaboration, the content, conversations, and data are brought together, joined around a common element. That linchpin could be a customer, an event, a support ticket, a project — anything really that unites information around a common context. With everything in context, the overwhelming quantity of information we have access to ceases to be a problem, as irrelevant items fade into the periphery, enabling people to focus on what they need right now. When tasks, discussions, images, spreadsheets, CRM records, and much more are integrated, it provides a complete picture enabling teams to get work done.

Purpose and Context Empower Success

One of the most important things I’ve learned during my years in the collaboration market is that while great features and shiny user interfaces are nice, purpose is the most important thing to the successful use of a product. If you start by defining why people should be using a tool or following a process, then getting them to do so will be easy. Once teams start using a tool and following a process, they don’t want to be overwhelmed, and that’s where context comes in. Providing teams the right information at the right time, in the context of the moment is vital in helping them be productive. So as you embark on your shift from a Culture of Stagnation to a Culture of Action, think about the roles purpose and context play, and make sure you chose tools and processes that are designed around these key tenets.

To learn even more about effective collaboration and its role in creating a workplace Culture of Action, download our ebook, The Empowered Workplace: How to Build a Culture of Action in the Digital Age.