There is certainly no shortage of collaboration tools available to today's enterprise buyer, nor are there limited options when it comes to supporting those tools. Most collaboration technology suppliers offer a very healthy stable of professional services covering the complete software lifecycle, from planning and deployment on through management and measurement. And with vendor- or partner-led geographical and vertical expertise, customers can rest assured that the software and services they purchase will translate into actual solutions, tied tightly into existing business processes and back-end systems. However, these well-rounded offerings do not and in truth cannot account for what is the most important variable in the collaboration equation: People.
Regardless of whether or not a collaboration project has full corporate backing (with mandatory participation) or employs advanced participation measurement tools, without a few good employees, that project runs the risk of short-term failure or long-term stagnation -- both stemming from that dreaded six-letter word, disuse. The solution quite simply is people, who are actively engaged in making use of and supporting a collaborative endeavor. But which people? The obvious answer is as many people as possible. In practice, what's necessary is a good old-fashioned two-tiered recruitment program made up of tactical evangelists and workday influencers.
As with all successful programs, the best place to start is at the top: Recruit a small cadre of "first mover" users (tactical evangelists), who do more than trumpet the importance of a collaboration solution in the hope of influencing others. These tactical evangelists should possess a mastery of the web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, what have you) that are to be employed by the official collaboration project. These users should be brought into the IT fold early on, before any software has been rolled out to users. At this stage, their advice should be both sought after and heeded. This will engender a sense of ownership and responsibility beyond what is obtainable through financial incentives alone (although such incentives should be included, of course).
More importantly, these evangelists should possess a strong desire to teach and assist others. This is the most tricky part, marrying the educator and the geek. But it is crucial, as this combination of temperament and expertise will allow an evangelist to both recruit and actively mentor a number of highly active users (workday influencers), who will do most of the leg work to create a sense of momentum behind a given project. These workday influencers will not be required to teach or assist; rather, they will be encouraged to simply use the project's collaborative tools actively, day in and day out, employing the methods prescribed by their sponsoring tactical evangelist.
This multilevel approach will ensure participation without placing a heavy burden upon IT staff members and training personnel. In a sense, it combines the best of top-down and grassroots programs, giving project owners a sense of security that their best practices and usage guidelines will propagate out to the enterprise staff at large in an extremely efficient manner.
How do you go about identifying a cadre of tactical evangelists and workday influencers? There are tell-tale signs, most notably self-directed adoption of collaboration tools in both a professional and a personal capacity. But there are no hard and fast rules. It's a bit like falling in love. It's impossible to say why it happens, but once you've found it, you just know.