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Studying Collaboration to Improve Collaboration

This is the first blog in a multi-part series. In upcoming posts, I delve deeper into the study and how technology is changing the way we work together.

Collaboration. It’s defined as “the act of people working together to reach a common goal.” Simple, right? But today’s technology era brings new dimensions to how we work together. We collaborate across time zones, across cultures, across personalities and behaviors, and all across a multitude of mobile devices, from smartphones and laptops to tablets and more.

And the scope and reach of technology will only get bigger and become more complex. As technology essentially makes the world smaller, the value and impact of collaboration increases — from the amount of projects you can undertake, to the productivity of employees, to the speed of implementation.

Collaboration has always been a core component of our culture at Cisco. And just as we use and optimize our technology to solve challenges and bring business benefits to our customers, we study our own organization to better understand the human behavior of collaboration and how it affects employee productivity, workplace efficiency, and business results.

We recently completed the Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study, a qualitative, ethnographic, global research study that provided us with insight to how we collaborate at Cisco. Our findings also presented us with the opportunity to share recommendations that will work for any organization that wants to derive greater business value by improving collaboration.

Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study Executive Summary

Executive Summary

Overall, the study reveals that employees value collaboration. Working together and having multifaceted perspectives trumps working alone and often leads to idea propagation. As one participant said, “Collaboration is the bundling of experiences. Sharing the expertise and being able to leverage the experience of many people gives you diversity, and different views. It sums up to more than if you do it on your own.”

The study also identified the existence of a certain tension that accompanies collaboration, which isn’t surprising when you consider the number of opinions and different viewpoints that arise when you bring together a group of people. As a result, in order for people to value collaboration and for collaboration to be successful, it must be an effective means to achieve objectives and ultimately produce outcomes.

Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study Full Report

Full Report

Our study identified strategies to help create a successful environment for collaboration. One of the first ways you can start is to identify how your organization perceives collaboration today. For example, you might ask employees:

  • How do you define collaboration as a concept?
  • How do you define collaboration in our organization?
  • What value do you see in collaboration?
  • What makes collaboration successful?
  • What barriers have you experienced?
  • Are you motivated to collaborate? Why or why not?
  • What kind of work benefits most from collaborating with others?

Understanding employee perceptions can reveal how they feel about the process, but more importantly, it can help you understand what will motivate them. Using that information can help you pinpoint areas focus to drive more effective collaboration.

In today’s realities, collaboration is about more than bringing people together to achieve a goal. It’s more than a technical architecture, solution, or product. Collaboration integrates people, processes, and technology. As the range and capabilities of collaboration tools continues to broaden, the focus has changed from delivering individual best-in-class applications to providing an integrated experience with consistent functionality across multiple devices.

Collaboration is a catalyst for evolving from merely using technology to rethinking business, changing process, and adapting culture. In a post-PC world, collaboration is more critical than ever. It means getting the right information to the right people at the right time to make the right decision. In turn, these well-informed and quicker decisions help organizations get work done, fostering productivity, innovation, and growth.

At Cisco, we believe that people working together can achieve extraordinary things. The importance of tapping more deeply into your workforce and unlocking the potential of each person has never been greater than in today’s competitive environments. The challenge is finding the best ways to bring them together over distance and across organizations.

We see the primary benefits in collaboration technology in how it allows organizations to empower their employees to engage with one another so that they can innovate.

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


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  1. First of all I would like to say that I liked this post because it treats collaboration as something more than technology advances, and in so doing it also surprised me.

    The Cisco articles I have read in the past claim that communication technology like WebEx and TelePresence can improve the collaboration within your organization. It was therefore kind of surprising when the study shows that Cisco employees tried to meet face-to-face, and resorting to technology as a secondary option. I do not blame them. I work mostly on projects where contributors are located around the world, and I have an employer that lets me work from home. Communication technology is therefore a part of my everyday life, but I never feel as a fully integrated member of the team when telecommuting. A meeting itself may be satisfactory, but you miss out on all the informal collaboration – the chat over a cup of coffee or the longer discussions at lunch. Are you than a true member of the team?

    The question is what improvements communication technology offers to collaboration when people prefer the intimacy of the good all fashion meeting?

    I have called it communication technology deliberately, because I am not convinced that all communication lead to constructive collaboration. Some of it may be perceived as noise and according to the executive summary the study seems to touch upon this in several areas. I believe that to enable constructive collaboration another prerequisite, in addition to communication, is needed and that is content. How do you see Cisco’s technology helping the user in this aspect?

    I apologize for commenting after only having read the executive summary. I am looking forward to read the entire study. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hello Bard,
      One of the underlying factors for effective collaboration is trust and the fastest way to build trust is to have in person face to face communication. What we found is that once trust is there (i.e. people have a personal as well as business relationship) then collaboration becomes more effective and more efficient.

      I agree with your point that not all communication leads to constructive collaboration, we are all getting inundated with information. What the technologies can do is filter relevant content and communications and enable getting that to you to provide context.


  2. good example of a company blog. as current student of social-media management at somexcloud in Zurich, I can easily promote this blog as successful implementation story.