Collaboration Calculus

Why is it so difficult to incorporate new collaborative processes and tools into an organization?  I’ve recently been observing a small team in a Fortune 500 company as they wrestle with this Calculus is the study of change...question.  They have the necessary tools at hand, plenty of technical knowhow, and they uniformly express a desire to build community within their geographically dispersed team.  But they are still struggling to get things moving.  What more could they possibly need?

Collaboration initiatives fail for a variety of reasons.  The problem is typically multifaceted and unique to the situation.  However, I believe there is a central theme that can help break down this complex equation.  In short, collaboration requires participation.  My friend and colleague, Joe Moran, recently postulated in a discussion forum on Cisco Community Central at a key principle that he calls the Participation Theory.  He set this up as a simple equation that I think gets to the heart of the matter.  I’ll let him describe it here:

Ultimately, I think participation in any activity is tied to what I like to refer to as the: Participation Theory (PT).  Broken down simply as:  

Likelihood of Participation (LoP) = Reward / Effort

Now, of course that oversimplifies things immensely because the perception of Reward (R) and Effort (E) will vary significantly from individual to individual.  Ultimately, I think if we spent enough time we could come up with a core set of variables that would serve as common inputs to determining the weight of each factor.  Perhaps basing it off of Utility Theory or other like decision theories.  Of course we would need to factor in global variables which widely impact a given population, such as everyone within an enterprise.

However, in its simplest form when LoP > 1, we participate.  When LoP is < 1, we don’t participate.  If LoP = 1, then participation may be intended, but follow through is not certain.

So, the Reward must be greater than the Effort required to participate.  When true, collaboration happens.

Sounds simple, but if you read the follow-on comments in the discussion, you will see that there are a variety of other variables that make up R and E.  Things like Inertia and Availability and Awareness and Time to name just a few.  Continue reading