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Real-time Collaboration: Building a Collaborative Community Within an Organization Twitter Facebook Print E-mail
Written by Jeromy Hall   
Tuesday, 13 October 2009

I work on a fairly large portfolio team within the Information and Communications Systems department—approximately ninety people who are organized into five or six project teams, each focused on delivering products for the Missionary and Public Affairs departments of the Church.

But we have a problem: the project teams have become siloed. This is because we do not have an effective means of cross-portfolio collaboration in real-time.

This problem manifests itself in a number of ways, including the following:

  1. When a technical problem is discovered by a team, a cultural boundary causes the team to feel that they’re on their own to solve it.
  2. We have no discoverable history of successes and failures, and consequently project teams either re-invent the wheel or repeat the mistakes of other teams.
  3. The perception of bureaucracy causes us to be inefficient while we wait for meetings and use the organizational hierarchy to disseminate lessons learned and best practices discovered by project teams.
  4. We think and behave in ways that prevent synergy and cause miscommunication, both of which lead us to false thinking. For example, we tend to promote false assumptions such as the following:
    • “My problems are unique.”
    • “Everyone sees my problems.”
    • “Everyone would see the same solutions as I do.”
    • “If I can’t solve it, nobody can.”

Recently, we have made attempts to break down silos by building a collaborative community within our organization. We wanted to give our people a “voice,” or the means to speak up and collaborate in real-time. To this end, we identified our core problem solvers and communicators (or Mavens and Connectors, to borrow from Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point) by using an organizational network analysis. These folks are the leaders who drive the work, unstop the blockages, and seem to always have that “magic sauce” for getting the work done. When we gathered the majority of them into a room to discuss this issue, they didn’t need convincing that this was a problem worth solving. In fact, some of them had already found innovative methods for collaborating within their teams. Our discussion included the use of a blog as well as other COTS (commercial off the shelf) collaborative solutions.

Having seeded our community with Mavens and Connectors and provided the community with the technical forums necessary for real-time collaboration, we are now learning a great deal about breaking down silos by building a community within our organization. First, this has to be a community-driven initiative and not a management-driven program. After all, communities need guidance, not top-down direction.  Thus, our Mavens and Connectors have the passion and are creating real-time collaboration with the entire community. Second, to get people to participate, they need to see what’s in it for them. They need to see the purpose and value of the community. Therefore, management is providing guidance in the form of overarching objectives (e.g. create synergy, give people a voice, etc.) and are letting community members decide how the forums are used.

We are just beginning to see the breakdown of our silos as our community begins to collaborate in real-time. However, this effort is very much in its infancy and we are far from claiming success. We would love to hear feedback on what we’ve accomplished so far, as well as ideas about how collaborative communities are being built within other organizations.

Jeromy Hall is a software quality assurance manager for the Church.

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