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Driving collaboration through social media 05/09/2011

Driving greater collaboration among employees has become critical as corporate structures grow larger and more complex. There is also increasing urgency to leverage collaboration to spur product and workflow innovations and drive greater efficiency.

Driving collaboration through social media

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  1. Effective collaboration
  2. Social media as a corporate solution
  3. Measuring the impact of social media collaboration

Effective collaboration

According to recent research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board’s Corporate Leadership Council among more than 20,000 employees, 250 heads of HR and 100 senior leaders globally, businesses that collaborate effectively can achieve 36% higher revenue in comparison to their peers. 

Companies all over the world are requiring their staff to work effectively with colleagues based in multiple locations on the same project. Couple this with increasing demands from investors to improve innovation and performance, and it should come as no surprise that 94% of organisations report that they are pursuing a collaboration initiative currently. 

The bad news, however, is that effective collaboration remains elusive. According to CEB, just 11% of organisations are found to be effective or very effective at collaboration, leaving the remaining 89% of businesses struggling to make an impact. 

The reasons so many businesses struggle are wide ranging. For example, the organisation may not have communicated successfully the purpose of collaboration, managers do not encourage it and senior leaders may not support it. Employees may not know who they need to connect with and which information to share. Other obstacles include a lack of resources, with organisations failing to provide an appropriate platform to facilitate collaboration, because of a lack of budget, or because of insufficient time set aside for employees to cooperate with their colleagues. 

Social media as a corporate solution

Many organisations are turning to social media in order to circumvent these barriers. Social media is seen to provide a ready-made platform upon which businesses can mobilise employees, facilitating an exchange of knowledge and ideas among colleagues. 

In fact, CEB research has found that almost three quarters (74%) of organisations are increasing their spend on social media, using sites like Yammer, the social networking site designed specifically for businesses, in order to drive greater collaboration among their employees. 

While many organisations are beginning to see results from their investment in social media for the purpose of attracting new customers and new talent, they are having less success in using it to drive greater collaboration within their organisation. Of those organisations using social media tools for the purpose of enhancing collaboration, just 17% are using them effectively.  

The research has found that one of the most common traps organisations fall into when trying to promote social media collaboration is focusing too heavily on the technical infrastructure. Companies often lose sight of what they are trying to achieve, to the extent that the platform itself becomes the object of attention. 

Other traps that companies fall into include failing to filter information properly so that the sheer volume of information begins to overwhelm employees, which undermines effective collaboration among colleagues. A failure to facilitate the exchange of information effectively can impact negatively on the success of collaboration, with unstructured exchanges lowering employees’ productivity. The need to continually adjust the process can also be overlooked, so that even social media collaboration programmes that start with a bang risk tailing off with a whimper. 

It is clear that while there are several pitfalls for organisations to circumnavigate a number of companies are proving that it is possible to drive greater collaboration by taking the following key steps: 

  •  View social media in the context of basic building blocks
    According to CEB research, infrastructure makes up just 2% of the whole process of driving effective collaboration and is just one small area of a total of five areas that companies need to focus on in order to create and sustain a successful collaborative working environment. These areas are: ‘Infrastructure’, ‘Focus’, ‘Filter’, ‘Facilitate’ and ‘Fine Tune’. 
  • Infrastructure:
    Rather than simply creating a platform for social media, determine the purpose of the social media strategy, and then align it and continue to re-align it against business objectives. 
  • Focus:
    The majority of organisations are looking at ways in which they can reduce the number of unstructured exchanges between employees to maintain productivity. While there is no one social media management model, companies do need to ensure that they are investing in improving collaborative behaviours rather than just the technical skills used in social media interactions to encourage productive conversation. 
  • Filter:
    Don’t focus on the number of people in your network. Instead, take a qualitative approach and filter information so that only the highest-quality intelligence is shared, rather than the highest volume of information. 
     
  • Facilitate:
    Organisations need to make collaboration easy for their employees and enable effective platform usage by teaching employees to make the best choices around the functionalities available to them, rather than dictating what technology to use. 
  • Fine Tune: 
    Organisations need to ensure that they continuously refine their social media efforts to ensure a continued relevance in the organisation’s drive to collaborate more closely across the business as an ongoing process. 

Measuring the impact of social media collaboration

Once organisations are successfully driving greater collaboration, HR departments are left with a new challenge. 85% of HR professionals report that tracking the success of social media collaboration is a major challenge, principally because their organisation does not measure the success of social media collaboration or organise the collected information in a way that is easily digestible. Therefore they are unable to use this information to improve collaboration within the organisation. 

In order to measure how successfully employees are collaborating, organisations need to link metrics to the overall strategy and goals of the business, which is far more effective than measuring factors such as employee participation. 

Organisations also need to segment measures by employee needs rather than employees’ basic usage to allow for targeted analysis of the success of the programme, for example by asking employees whether they are receiving the right intelligence from their colleagues to fulfil their roles. It is these kinds of measurements and feedback that allows organisations to continue to improve their social media strategies over time.  

Greater collaboration among employees will be critical for many organisations to achieve their objectives of greater effectiveness and innovation, especially in an increasing virtual and global working environment. While social media can offer helpful tools to promote collaboration it is essential that organisations recognise that they are not the solution in themselves.

Christoffer Ellehuus, managing director, Corporate Executive Board’s Corporate Leadership Council

Christoffer Ellehuus, managing director, Corporate Executive Board’s Corporate Leadership Council

Christoffer Ellehuus is managing director of Corporate Executive Board’s Corporate Leadership Council.