How will our culture of collaboration impact our business culture?

by Dave Hannon

February 1, 2011

Dave Hannon

We've all been hearing a lot about how social business tools can help build a “culture of collaboration” in our enterprise and I’ve been thinking about the long-term impact of this trend. By leveraging social media and other web-based networking tools, employees in various regions can connect and collaborate as easily as if they were in the next office. I’ve seen the demos, we’ve heard the business cases and it’s amazing. These tools are streamlining processes and letting businesses involve a wider set of employees in projects, breaking down long-held barriers within the enterprise.

And while I agree the “culture of collaboration” is a good thing for just about any business, I’m wondering what long-term impact it might have on our culture of, well, culture. Do we want to break down all of the barriers in the enterprise? Meaning, as we connect more easily and directly with co-workers and partners around the world, what will be the impact on the individual business cultures in the various regions?

Take for example, a worker in the U.S. who collaborates regularly with a worker in a European country via online or social business tools. Certainly, those tools work well when both are in the office, but, as we Americans often gripe, European businesses tend to be more generous with their vacation time, which, I would imagine makes these tools less effective during those times. So in the long-term will that mean European wo rkers are forced to take less vacation or be available more during their vacations for such collaboration? (Cue the street protests in Paris).

Or another example might be chain-of-command impact. In many business cultures, especially in Asia, it is much more customary to seek your supervisor’s approval before participating in a project. But with these new tools, will more workers in those regions be driven to respond more quickly to requests, eroding that long-held cultural tenet that your boss signs off first? (In fact, recent research by McKinsey shows that 49% of “fully networked” companies there are “less hierarchical information flows” and 25% say decisions are made lower in the corporate hierarchy when fully networked.).

Will the increased collaboration eventually make us all one homogenous business culture thus limiting the benefit of that collaboration? (Okay, I just gave myself a headache.)

I don’t know the answer, but, as always, I’m open to your input and, I’ll do my best to find someone who might have some insight. Stay tuned!   

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