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Winning Companies Understand the Difference Between Collaboration and Communication | Cisco Investments

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Winning Companies Understand the Difference Between Collaboration and Communication

Joelle Kaufman, Dynamic Signal's avatar

Joelle Kaufman, Dynamic Signal

We’re long past the point where businesses recognize the need to connect their employees with one another and align everyone around the central mission of their organizations.

It’s just common sense, right?

That explains why so many influential business leaders – like the advisors at Forrester – are highlighting the importance of solving the workplace distraction crisis in creating a better employee experience. In fact, an environment where people feel empowered and valued has never been more critical because unemployment hovers near historic lows and workers hold an upper hand over businesses.

But as we move full speed ahead into 2019, many companies (especially large enterprises) are struggling to address these challenges. I believe that’s because too often businesses don’t understand that they’re trying to achieve two, vastly different objectives.

Simply put: Collaboration and communication are not interchangeable. Both are important. But these are two distinct functions that cannot happen on the same channel if they’re going to be effective.

Collaboration is fantastic for rapidly accessing the knowledge inside the brains of your colleagues. You just throw out the question, ‘Does anybody know about this?’ Or maybe, ‘I’m working on a project and can you help me?’ And the answers and suggestions magically fill the feed. Collaboration is creation. It’s chaotic and unstructured. It’s a melting pot. There’s a swirl of creativity and cloudburst of ideas. If you’re creating a piece of art, you want a canvas to experiment.

Communication is about reaching all of your employees, wherever they are, and then being able to measure that you actually did it. It’s about top-down information getting to everyone because the entire company needs to be marching to the same drumbeat and understand the shared goals of the organization. Communication is curated. It’s easily accessible. It’s relevant to your work and delivered directly to you, in the manner you prefer. It’s about direction. When you’re figuring out how to get somewhere, you want a map.

See the distinction? Organizations need both collaboration and communication to succeed. But they are not the same. And for all the benefits of collaboration channels, they aren’t great for sharing critical information. They can be walled gardens for specific roles, teams, divisions, and so on. Urgent messages can get lost in the constant flow of information. Most vexing of all: What about employees who lack digital access because they are always on the move and don’t sit in front of desktop computers?

This is why the effort to do both on the same channel will under serve each. The structure that comes with clear communication delivered to all of your people must be less noisy. But at the same time, you’re going to lose the creative interaction needed for inspiration – the hallmark of collaboration.

So, the real solution is not to conflate the two. Pull these two challenges apart. You need the collaboration capability so employees can work together through personal, casual interactions to achieve great things. After all, the role of employee social networks is about building an employee community. But you also need the ability to provide critical company information and direction so that everyone is in the know.

The companies that understand this distinction will have more productive employees who are more focused on their work – and generate the most growth in 2019. These businesses will be giving their employees what they need to do their jobs better and listening to what workers are telling them is happening with their customers and their products.

The companies that look for systems that can reach every employee are going to be the winners.