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Collaboration Behaviors


As I mentioned in my last post, Open as the Default, one of the necessary conditions for successful enterprise collaboration is the requisite culture. The behavioral norms for successful collaboration tend to be different from the behaviors found in most organizations. In this post I identify some of the behaviors that should be present for an enterprise to be truly collaborative. I will address how to achieve these behaviors across an organization in later posts.

Understanding what behaviors support collaboration is important for a couple of reasons. First, possessing a picture of the future state of an organization's culture provides a road map for the HR and OD (Organization Development) functions to follow. Secondly these behaviors can be directly mapped to actions and activities carried out by individuals within the organization. Being able to identify specific activities that support collaboration, allows us to more effectively design the tools that support collaboration.By aligning tools and activity  we can deliver better collaborative solutions.

Here are seven collaborative behaviors.

Open as the default - This is addressed in detail in my previous post, but in summary, unless information can specifically be identified as needing to be secure for liability, IC or regulatory reasons, it should be made freely available within the enterprise ecosystem. This enables the ability for everyone to learn from previous efforts.

Suspend belief in absolutes - One of the biggest barriers to collaboration is the group or individual that is absolutely convinced that their position on an issue is correct. Without allowing for opposing opinions and open debate, collaboration cannot occur.

Challenge status quo, AGAIN - Most people will raise the proverbial "devil's advocate" question once, but as soon as someone is able to make any kind of reasonable defense of the status quo, opposition melts away. It is paramount to be certain that prevailing wisdom is truly challenged. 5-year olds do this extremely well: "Why...Why...Why...". Challenging convention for a second and third time will ultimately break down barriers and lead to better outcomes.

Play nice - Again from the kindergarten skill set. Being authentically  open, honest and friendly builds trust, a necessary component of collaboration.

Share more broadly than required - This is similar to "Open as the default". The difference is that "OATD" refers to allowing information to be shared. Sharing more broadly than required is about who do you proactively inform that the information exists. Traditionally only the project team is informed about project activities. Why not extend that notification to all stakeholders?

Be chivalrous - Being gracious and honorable toward the "opposition" can go a long way toward finding common ground.

Use reason and logic to make your point, not power and authority - For a conversation to be collaborative it must be among equals. Find some way to get hierarchy out of the picture.

Do you agree? Can you think of other behaviors that should be on this list?


I just read a great Harvard Business Review post from John Seely Brown and John Hagel, from Deloitte's Center for the Edge. In the post, they discuss 5 tips for smarter social networking. While the tips are aimed at external facing networks, I believe some of them can definitely be applied to E2.0 collaboration best practices. The comments are insightful as well.

Cisco Employee

I think the corrolary to the "share more broadly than required" is for those on the receiving end to seek out such content being shared.  Don't horde your expertise and knowledge.  And that's the glory of E2.0 - to see the information that you want - that you are interested in.

And one I'd add - focus on content not correctness.  If you're responding to a post or writing a blog - it's supposed to be fluid and colloquial.  Do waste cycles editing and pruning - get it out there and start the conversations!

Cisco Employee

Suzy - thanks for sharing the link.  That number two is an interesting one: "Mix professional and personal lives".  I'm in the middle of reading The Facebook Effect and I know that's an idea that Mark Zuckerberg strongly believes in and one of the principles behind Facebook itself.  Basically like the post mentions - those walls between professional and personal are coming down.  We're entering a new era of transparency.  That's an interesting one though.  I agree with it - but it's certianly a challenging one.

Cisco Employee

Lee - by the way, how'd you get that little icon next to your blog links?


Hi Christopher

I think this community is intuitive -and that's a GOOD thing-it will enable collaborative behavior and innovation. I also think this is a great community concept- and especially for  letting everyone chime in their .02 cents (excuse me  - read: knowledge).

Basically- I'm of the school of thought of 100% online transparency. However, make note that I carefully "garden" what I post online and what is creating my brand, so to speak. I have seen too many disasters out there and some great examples, as well.

The web is such an awesome place for people to connect- BUT: that also means they will connect to "dig deeper" and investigate your online persona (read: current employer, future employer, former employer,current significant other, future significant other, former significant other, etc). THAT to me, is one of the trickier aspects of all this- and like you say, Lee, a very challenging issue for the population at large.

Not to mention we have "The Greatest Generation", along with Baby Boomers, along with Gen X &Y, ALL sharing the social space in varying degrees. This gives us a unique opportunity to observe behaviors across the lines and learn from them.

We live in some very interesting times, indeed. I like to listen and learn from it all. Oh, and share along the way-always.


These behaviors are well stated and certainly serves as good self-assessment questions. I would also suggest that are probably several corporate behaviors that correspond to these in the sense of how do we enable, encourage, and reward these kinds of behaviors. Companies are not always "safe" places to engage in these behaviors - or at least pockets of them where an authoritarian approach is practiced. It would be interested in developing a corresponding institutional behavior list (e.g., reward collaborative behavior, collaboration as a factor in evaluating leadership, etc) When engaging in adoption activities we should think about how to encourage transformation in the culture.

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