Collaboration has become a first-tier concern for enterprises looking to transform their organisations. There are now several powerful social collaboration suites on the market, but to take collaboration to the next level, organisations need to reassess their specific needs.

Most collaboration efforts focus on one of two functions: 1) helping knowledge workers liaise more closely with their team-mates; or 2) helping them connect with others in a distant part of the organisation who may have expertise that they can use.  While these functions are clearly important, there’s another, often overlooked, type of collaborative relationship which may represent an even more critical focus: the interactions between the loosely coupled sets of "adjacent teams".   

For example, consider the relationship between a product development team, and the team responsible for marketing what they develop. Teams in large enterprises typically have several important adjacency relationships, and the value of the team’s work to the enterprise is largely determined by how effective those relationships are.  Alignment and awareness among adjacent teams can mean the difference between a great enterprise and a dysfunctional collection of misaligned, siloes. 

Unfortunately, high-performing teams are often so busy getting their own work done that they lack the time to maintain awareness of what adjacent teams are doing.  This is why maintaining systematic peripheral awareness between adjacent teams is difficult, and why enhancing that type of awareness may be the most important, game changing benefit that improved collaboration can offer.  How do we get there?

Although adjacent teams do not generally work together on a day-to-day basis, they usually have a systematic and ongoing relationship. Different kinds of relationships require different types of information sharing.  We’ve identified 5 common types of adjacency relationships:

  • Parallel teams typically do similar types of work, but might support different geographies or divisions. Collaborative awareness can help teams to avoid reinventing the wheel.

  • Teams in a workflow pipeline are those in which one group consumes the results of another as one of its important inputs. Synchronisation and scheduling expectations are critical to the effectiveness of hand-offs.

  • Teams with complementary functions are interdependent.  They need to stay on top of each other's work processes and products, since dependencies in both directions may be complex and critical.

  • Teams in coalition cooperate in joint actions, but with separate goals.  Topic-based discussions and sharing of work products can be used to optimise the relationship.

  • Management teams often supervise a number of projects and groups, and therefore require a bird’s eye view of the teams' activity. Schedules, major achievements, and checkpoints need to be shared automatically to provide continuous visibility imposing additional overhead.

Social Collaboration (SoCo) technology is providing new opportunities to promote systematic peripheral awareness between adjacent teams. SoCo platforms, such as  Jive, Salesforce Chatter, Yammer, and Cisco Webex Social (formerly Quad) use social networking mechanisms to share relevant information with specific people.  This capability is still evolving, as vendors work to reduce the amount of manual effort to tag, route, and filter activity feeds.  Over time, we expect the platforms to get smarter, with interfaces that will organisations that understand the information needs of adjacent teams to configure information-routing as dictated by the needs of a particular adjacent-team relationship.

SoCo has already contributed to stronger coordination within teams, and to helping knowledge workers find expertise in distant parts of the organisation.  The next frontier - supporting the interaction between teams that need to align, but don’t have to focus on each other daily - promises even greater benefits for those organisations that can pull it off.  Greater peripheral awareness between adjacent teams is key to a number of organisational imperatives, including maintaining alignment, supporting efficient hand-offs, and sharing actionable knowledge. When work-in-progress is more visible to adjacent teams, they are more likely to see opportunities to productively join forces, and to develop a collaborative attitude. 

When the intelligence of teams is brought together more systematically, organisations can avoid duplication of effort, and can seize opportunities that would otherwise be missed.  Organisations that understand the information-needs of adjacent teams, and how to use SoCo consistently to meet those needs, will find that SoCo has gone from a tool that is nice to have to one that drives truly transformational change in how work gets done.  

Posted by Taemie Kim, Senior Specialist and Alex Kass, Senior Research Manager, Accenture Technology Labs