Do Organizations Need a Chief Collaboration Officer?

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More organizations are starting to deploy new collaborative tools and strategies as a core part of their business evolution to connect and engage employees. It’s becoming increasingly difficult (especially at large companies) to oversee these initiatives as typically there isn’t a role devoted to collaboration. Usually collaboration falls on the shoulders of employees with an existing full plate of things that need to get done (such as the CIO). So is it about time for organizations to create the role of the CCO (chief collaboration officer)?

In 2010 Morten Hansen and Scott Tapp wrote an article for HBR (Harvard Business Review) which suggested that the role of the CCO should fall on another executive (just not the CEO) such as the CIO, CFO, or COO. Hansen and Tapp state that the CEO doesn’t have enough time to devote this but I don’t believe that any of these other executive have that time either.

It’s an interesting question to try to answer and I’m hard pressed to say “yes” or “no.” I think it’s important to explore both sides of this which is what I want to devote the rest of this post to.

I should start by saying that I have seen collaboration initiatives succeed on many levels. Some companies have SVP’s of collaboration that oversee small teams, other companies have small task forces that report to an executive leader and some companies have someone such as the CIO lead this initiative. I’ve seen all of these (and other) models work so I think it’s a bit presumptuous of people to assume that there is a “right” or “best” way to make this work.

I think there is a best approach for each company but it’s not the same best approach for all companies.

I am seeing are increased complexities as organizations continue down the road of collaboration. More and more challenges, questions, and issues continue to arise (and will keep doing so) such as how to pick the right tools, how to role them out, how to deal with upgrades, what happens with rogue deployments, where do organizations start, and a host of over things. For many it is getting to the point where it becomes overwhelming for employees with existing job functions to oversee collaboration. This has the potential to stagnate the initiative and causes tension within the company.

It could be helpful to have a chief collaboration officer at an organization whose role from an executive level is to make sure that the proper tools and strategies are being deployed across the organization. However, this role can’t be a “let’s put everything on the CCO” type or role. Instead this person needs to work closely with the rest of the executive team (and even closer with the CIO) to make sure that things are moving in the right direction (just like any other executive).

I imagine that prior to deployment this person would be in charge of things such as developing use cases, evaluating vendors, developing a strategy and roadmap, evaluating risks, and building a team (not having the CCO do this on his own). After deployment this person would be focusing on thing such integration, training programs, adoption strategies and the like. The long term role of this person would be scaling the program, fostering a collaborative culture, continuous evaluation and adoption, and integrating collaboration within the overall business strategy of the company. If you ask anyone from a large (or even mid-size) company that has been spending their time on collaboration they will tell you that it’s a full time job with new challenges and tasks just like any other. Again the CCO needs to be someone that understands collaboration from not just a technology standpoint but from a business and people standpoint.

What about the CIO?

Many advocate the approach of the CIO overseeing collaboration, after all, this person is in charge of the information architecture. This may work but lets keep in mind that the CIO is already working full time (probably well over that) with his/her existing responsibilities so simply throwing collaboration to them just because it might be convenient isn’t the best approach. Also, just because someone is the CIO doesn’t mean that they understand collaboration. Now again, I have seen some CIOs who run a collaboration team work successfully but I have also seen many companies struggle with this resulting in botched deployments or abandoned platforms.

If organizations want to make collaboration work then it needs to be done right.

Another approach has been do distribute the roles and responsibilities of a CCO among a team of individuals led by an already existing executive (CIO, CEO, or other). Challenges in this type of environment are around consensus and timing to make decisions as more people tend to take more time to make things happen. There are many models that organizations use and I’m sure you can think of several yourself. However, let’s get back to the point at hand which is, do organizations need a CCO?

The best way to approach this is by looking at the existing environment of your company to decide how to proceed.

When a CCO might be a good idea

  • If collaboration becomes too much of a responsibility to add to an existing team or individual
  • If the organization wishes to move at a more rapid pace
  • There isn’t anyone in their current role that really understands collaboration from a business and technology standpoint
  • The long-term strategy is to have a key team and person that can handle anything around collaboration (everything from training to strategy development)
  • If the organization is having trouble looking at collaboration from a holistic big picture of how it impacts everyone
  • If collaboration is going to be led and supported from the senior executive level
  • If budget exists for such a role
  • If the organization has decided that this is indeed a strategic and permanent investment (as opposed to a short term pilot)

When a CCO might not be a good idea

  • If another executive is able and willing to take on the task to oversee collaboration
  • If a distributed responsibility model has worked in the past for other roles and functions
  • If budgeting for such a role becomes too extravagant
  • If the strategy is to have a task force developed for a short period of time to launch this initiative and then disband
  • If the organization is still having trouble understanding the value of collaboration and is still in the pilot or test phase

Again keep in mind that there is a best approach for your company but it doesn’t mean it’s the best approach for all companies. Be careful of automatically assuming that a CCO is or is not the best solution. Ultimately the decision comes down to looking at your existing environment and structure. As you can see above every company has its own way of doing things and so will yours. I certainly see scenarios where a CCO can be beneficial but there are just as many scenarios where having a CCO is not the best idea. The point of this post isn’t to say what is right or wrong but to get you to think about the answer to this question so that you can make a decision that is best for your company.

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