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Collaboration Patterns That Accelerate Your Business

This is my fourth blog in a multi-part series.  In my first blog, I introduced insights from Cisco’s Collaboration Work Practice Study and how people value collaboration in the work environment.  In my second blog, I discussed the importance of building trust-based relationships and networks to make collaboration work for you.  In my third blog, I share how you can turn human interactions into business results.  In today’s blog, I discuss patterns of collaborative behaviors and how to leverage them to better support collaborators.


Collaboration can happen at anytime.  Some would describe it as chaotic.   But interestingly enough, through all the collaborative interactions we observed, we saw patterns in the “chaos” – patterns that did not just exist in organizational silos, nor were they simply associated with a job role or personality type.   Throughout the day, people play a variety of roles and experience different types and modes of collaboration.   They go from online to offline, in a virtual meeting to meeting over coffee, have an ad-hoc chat in the break-room and attend a global Cisco TelePresence meeting.

If we pay close attention to the behavior patterns of collaboration we can learn how to better support collaborators and create a more seamless experience. This is where process, technology and the physical and virtual workplace can complement the human behaviors that occur during collaboration.

Accelerating Collaboration through Catalysts and Connectors

“Not everyone is comfortable with collaborating virtually. [A catalyst’s] outreach encourages participation and makes the experience rich and meaningful.”   – Study Participant

In our study, we found that certain types of people play an essential role in not only reinforcing a culture of collaboration but also accelerating it. We call these two types of people catalysts and connectors.  A “catalyst” sees the opportunities and value of working together as a team and is extremely effective at bringing people together and ensuring they are engaged and invested in the outcome.  They are change agents and move efforts forward by lifting barriers. A connector can be equated to a living “friend finder.” They excel at connecting the right people, and their extensive personal network is a highly prized asset.   The value provided by these two types of people had no real equivalent in the enterprise.

Understanding the patterns in the network of relationships or social graph in your organization can help to identify these key individuals and strategically leverage them to successfully move efforts forward.

Collaboration is More Than an Instance

Something else we learned: collaboration is not a single instance—a meeting, work session, discussion, or conversation.  Rather, there are activities that take place before, during and after. And often, the process of collaboration moves through different modes during its lifecycle, from synchronous to asynchronous, informal to formal, on-line and offline.

“A meeting happens; then work happens during the week in asynchronous mode until you get back together.”   – Study Participant

Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study Executive Summary

Yet moving through this collaboration “continuum” is a disjointed experience.  Participants stated this was largely due to the lack of well-integrated tools.  But it also requires flexible physical and virtual work spaces that can accommodate collaboration occurring anytime, anyplace and in different ways.   Providing flexibility is important to support the changing needs of collaborators.

As we observed the workdays of our participants in the study, four types of collaboration emerged. Each has unique characteristics regarding the set-up, roles and technology typically used to achieve the desired outcome.

  1. Relationship building and networking involves establishing relationships, developing trust and leveraging personal networks to make connections.  It is personal, social, and requires an environment that is comfortable and conducive for personal interaction.
  2. Problem solving focuses on bringing together a group of people to collaborate on a resolution to a problem or issue.  It is typically time sensitive, results-oriented and highly interactive.  Often experts need to be “pulled in” to help with resolution.
  3. Innovation develops new solutions or ideas. This type of interactive and highly immersive collaboration often makes a big impact on the organization in terms of large-scale change and new opportunities for the company.  It requires an environment that allows for the open exchange and capture of ideas.
  4. Execution and communication involves collaboration that keeps the business moving such as planning and operations, project and program execution and organizational communication. It is more tactical in nature and the type of collaboration most employees experience during the course of their day.

Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study Full Report

Understanding the patterns of collaborative behavior plays an important role in influencing product strategy and services.  Consider how to better guide collaborators by providing them with the information, capabilities, and technologies they need along the way; before, during and after the collaboration

 Tips to Leverage Collaboration Patterns

How can you take action to better support the patterns of how people collaborate?

At Cisco, it’s about flexibility, integration and leveraging key individuals in the organization.   Striving to make the collaboration experience more seamless means collaborators spend less time tracking down information and people and getting “set up” to collaborate. They have more time to focus on the objective – and ultimately speed the progress toward completion.

What’s top of mind for you? How can improving collaboration help accelerate your business?


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