posted 10 Nov 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 2
Priyadarshini Banati describes how Accenture has applied collaboration activities to ensure successful business outcomes
One of the strengths of Accenture is our ability to collaborate with highly specialised colleagues around the globe to provide the best knowledge-based business and technology solutions for our clients. With a workforce of 190,000 Accenture employees have an opportunity to build relationships, share knowledge and develop ideas with colleagues who serve clients in more than 120 countries.
Our efforts are part of a new multi-pronged initiative, Accenture Collaboration 2.0, which enables Accenture employees to connect with anyone at any place and at any time. By sharing resources and knowledge, Accenture professionals help clients achieve high performance by delivering more effective solutions for their business issues.
Our leaders are committed to strengthening collaboration at Accenture through the development of knowledge-sharing programmes that shape the culture, processes and tools that make it easy for employees to help each other succeed.
For Accenture’s employees, this means getting better at:
Building informed relationships with individuals based on their expertise from around the globe;
Mobilising the right expertise (both content and people) to help increase the quality of their team’s output and speed to completion. Engaging with peers in new ways that do not require everyone to be in the same place at the same time;
Building deeper skills in communities that extend beyond their immediate teams;
Contributing and promoting their knowledge and being recognised for it; and
Learning how they can participate and leverage tools and processes to support their collaboration goals.
Fostering a collaborative culture enables Accenture to better integrate our services and increase the value we provide our clients.
As a result we get better at:
Bringing new employees on board by enabling new hires – especially experienced individuals – to connect with relevant expertise;
Managing change by making knowledge transfer easier between teams and across silos within a large organisation; and
Increasing the pace of mobilising the right people behind current and critical issues or opportunities, by leveraging common processes and building better facilitation skills amongst our leadership.
In August 2010, Accenture’s total headcount exceeded 200,000 for the first time in its history. Our employees are increasingly mobile, distributed across many different countries and deeply specialised. The need for our people to cultivate knowledge-based relationships in communities in which their peers share and build common expertise, is both urgent and transformational. Fostering collaboration in these emergent, peer-facilitated and relationship-based communities is vital to bring the best of Accenture to our clients every day.
In this case study, we will outline this journey and share some of the challenges we face as we enable our employees to work together across silos and help each other succeed.
It begins with a conversation about our business
The process of transforming the way we collaborate at Accenture is structured as a conversation which is made up of five building blocks. It aims to understand a business’ growth and development goals for the year and respond with a collaboration plan that helps meet those goals.
Beginning with outcomes is essential. Collaboration outcomes are actionable goals that individuals in a community can come together around and realise. We start by understanding the business goals around growth and development and identifying the current gaps and opportunities that can be addressed through effective collaboration.
Collaboration outcomes are statements of intent that empower individuals in your group or organisation to commit to spending their discretionary time to network and engage in community activities. Clear outcomes are the foundation for building a healthy level of engagement amongst a group of individuals. By effectively (and repeatedly) communicating outcomes, leaders can positively influence a group’s culture. For individuals in a community, effectively communicated outcomes bring a sense of purpose and post-participation. This results in a deep sense of contribution.
For example, the financial services community needed to quickly mobilise its expertise around the new financial regulatory changes occurring across the globe at the onset of the recession in the winter of 2009. Its outcome was to spend two to four weeks pulling together a point of view on what this (the regulatory changes) would mean for our clients’ businesses. By identifying this collaboration outcome, the business was able to mobilise the available expertise across a large community around a common purpose thus ensuring that the output reflected the best of our thinking.
Determining synergies between teams and silos enables leaders to proactively engage in key relationship building, and thereby bring the best of Accenture to its clients. By identifying these relationships (who do we need to collaborate with?) and nurturing them in communities, leaders can help bridge gaps between organisation defined silos. Individuals can benefit from building deeper specialisation in their areas and leverage relationships with individuals who complement their own strength.
Key questions that a community asks at this stage are:
What are the relevant industries, functional and technical relationships that we need to leverage in order to achieve our goals?
How do we identify members with the right level of expertise?
Do people know who to go to with their questions?
Which teams do we increasingly go to clients with together?
Which teams do we potentially view as partnering opportunities?
What relationships do we want to leverage to better market/sell our current offering?
Continuing with the financial services community example, identifying the ‘who’ ensured that all the subject matter experts (SMEs) distributed across North America and Europe were able to work together to develop this point of view. These relationships not only eased the flow of knowledge but also became connectors between different teams. It resulted in a comprehensive view of the issues and a quicker way to identify and prioritise our response to solving these issues.
An effective collaboration programme identifies and enables different ways for individuals to interact with one another in order to help each other succeed. Activity design is perhaps the most important building block after the outcomes have been identified. Well-designed activities enable individuals to interact easily and effectively to meet community outcomes. They also help develop ‘champions’ – individuals from the community who learn how to facilitate interaction by driving activities.
All activities in our communities aim to develop three key proficiencies: connect, contribute and cultivate – see Figure 3.
Our communities are able to assess where their members are across these three collaboration proficiency levels. Next, the outcomes identified earlier are used to prioritise which proficiency to prioritise on. New communities often begin at the lowest level – connect and over time evolve their plan to include activities that also cater to contribute and cultivate.
In the financial services community example, the outcome to build a point of view required that the activity design facilitated interaction amongst the SMEs at the highest level (cultivate). It wasn’t enough that the SMEs were connected to one another. Nor was it sufficient that they contributed their expertise to this community. To meet their outcome the activities they participated in required that they were able to work together and further develop existing thoughts on the impact of regulatory changes to our financial industry clients.
With what: Architectures
In this building block we speak to the available technology infrastructure or tool set to help foster collaboration in an organisation. Armed with outcomes, a sense of which relationships to build and some potential activities, the next logical step is to capture our requirements.
We have developed tailored architectures that help a group focus on their needs rather than spend an inordinate sum of time and effort experimenting with different tools.
An architecture is akin to a recipe that is made up of:
The right mix of capabilities that meet your requirements across four areas – content, communication, collaboration and community; and
A list of suggested activities that develops at least one of three proficiencies.
In the financial services community example, they deployed an architecture that focused on intensive collaboration, primarily using a wiki to build their point of view.
When: Socialising or promoting activities
This last building block highlights a critical element to fostering collaboration: recognition. In order to motivate individuals to interact with one another, it is important to be able to recognise their participation. The easiest and most powerful way to do this is by building the appropriate channels into each activity that socialise, promote and recognise interactions. Each individual in a community can make use of the opportunity to market their expertise.
In doing so they are able to receive feedback and be recognised for their contribution. Leaders need to be encouraged to socialise and promote activities in order to promote continuous engagement and increase participation levels. At Accenture, we also track activities across all the three proficiencies and compute individual and community scores that again help recognise individual and collective contributions.
Barriers to effective collaboration
Our transformation journey so far has also thrown up a number of barriers to effective collaboration.
The biggest barrier to effective collaboration is the absence of outcomes. When we survey communities with low participation, the most common reason is the absence of a clear sense of purpose. What are we in this community for? We addressed this barrier by requesting sponsorship at the highest level. We engaged leadership results in clearly communicating goals and being able to easily socialise them across a wide network.
Another barrier to effective collaboration is the competitive structure of teams where each member assumes that all the requirements of the project can be met from within the team.
Over time, this creates silos and each silo is looking to collaborate within its boundaries. Thus, the ‘who’ question often gets missed out altogether.
In an organisation there can be different types of silos – based on skill, geography, organisation and even by a single client. It is a common myth that running a program, be it learning or innovation driven, is easier for a defined group of people.
In large and highly specialised organisations such as Accenture, the opposite is true. When community boundaries are truly porous, it becomes easier to bridge across silos and grow the business.
With the advent of new tools and technologies, another barrier to effective collaboration is the absence of facilitation. Sponsors assume that by deploying a wiki, for example, users will immediately know how to use it. Sometimes the available training is focused on how to use a tool and not on why and when. We have learnt that most virtual interactions need to be facilitated. Thus, the most important focus of our enablement program is about teaching individuals how to facilitate both synchronous and asynchronous interactions.
A common pitfall we found was to start with technology as means to effectively foster collaboration. We have learnt that technology is a key enabler to effective collaboration only if it fuels a clear purpose, builds relationships and is peer-facilitated. Enabling employees to think of collaboration as being about specific goals, relationships and activities increased the adoption of our tools. When blogs were pushed for the sake of blogging, there was poor adoption.
Adapting our approach that uses several tailored architectures instead of a ‘one size fits all’ was instrumental in different business areas effectively integrating their content, communication, collaboration and community needs. An architecture also needs to be flexible and evolve over time as needs change. This was addressed by integrating all our capabilities into each site so that each site can turn on and off different capabilities based on its need.
We will continue to foster collaboration across Accenture. Our focus remains to continue to better how individuals connect, contribute and cultivate knowledge-based relationships in communities to bring the best of Accenture to our clients.
Priyadarshini Banati is the collaboration strategy lead at Accenture. She lives in London and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.