Social Collaboration?


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Theres a new term doing the rounds in the IT vendor market – social collaboration. Nobody gave me an exact meaning to that, either the IT vendors or the sociologists/anthropologists/sociobiologists. Wikipedia too is pretty cryptic and unclear about it. So much for social collaboration being helpful in defining social collaboration! And I am loath to decipher the hidden insinuations of that taxonomy in the IT space. Almost like doing taxidermy to myself.

Collaboration by definition means working together towards a common goal:

Collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.

Now this implies that a set of common goals has been reached – this requires not just communication but also negotiation. This negotiation is also required to figure out who does what and by when. And once the work towards to the common goals is underway we need to keep a track on the work output. Now that sounds so much like project management, only there are no clear organization structures always. Projects are most often than not, matrix organizations.

The role power in a matrix organization is vastly diminished. Expertise power helps to a certain extent, but then in high performance/stakes teams everybody is going to be an expert of something or the other. The only other power left is relationship power. One negotiates using the relationship power to get things done. Reciprocity is a bigger coin than orders. No more command and control.

Having worked in a matrix organization all my life (and a pretty huge & complex one let me assure you) I perfectly understand the role of relationships in the organization. Many people think schmoozing helps build relationship power, they could not be wronger than that! A huge organization is bound to have some bit of that schmoozing too, but its not what matters to the success of the organization.

Ok, so collaboration is inherently a social activity since it requires communication and that people can negotiate (which is dependent on relationships) so that a work output is obtained. Hence, to my mind the phrase ‘social collaboration’ seems to be resplendent with redundant words, redolently demonstrated by this very statement. Also, a ‘social collaboration’ means there is an asocial collaboration, and perhaps an eusocial collaboration too?

People might retaliate back asking me so why do I use the term ‘social CRM’? Well, the term relationship in CRM is perforce focused on the contractual relationship of the firm with the customer. But humans are not rational (ask the behavioral economists) and don’t always work within the boundaries of the contractual obligations, increasingly so, and hence a lot of emphasis on Trust these days. And hence my temporary siding with the term ‘social CRM’.

Given this logic, what does ‘social collaboration’ mean? Where people collaborate outside of the contractual obligations? Which means outside of the role structures & job descriptions in the organization? Typical of a matrix organization, no?

What do you think? What are your views on ‘social collaboration’ and ‘role power’ in a collaborative enterprise (a bit more complex than a matrix organization)?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


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