What do Google Groups, IBM Watson, and Project Management have in common?  It’s collaboration, and for the most part, purposeful interaction of teams or individuals coming together to create something.

Why collaborate? For some people, collaboration can be a painful experience–putting forth an idea under circumstances like a deadline or eminent measurement among peers may be suppressing its full development.

Keeping an open mind on achieving a better result will surprisingly open up many possibilities and alternatives you may not have thought on your own.

Here are five factors and a review of each that may influence your successful collaboration efforts: corporate culture, time, people, tool selection, and motivation.

1. Corporate Culture

Collaboration is a common practice among academians and musicians, and increasingly effective in healthcare settings. However, does your organization foster a collaborative culture? Often individuals are likely to champion an idea and take ownership to a project or task right up front. Take a closer look at successful projects in your organization and get a sense of any collaboration that may or may not exist.  If you’re the boss or project sponsor, give some performance incentives that result in successful outcomes to the project leaders and team to collaborate on a deeper level through participation.

2. Time Constraints

Often team members will forgo opportunities to collaborate if sufficient time does not allow assembling ideas and discussion. The team leader needs to communicate when time constraints will impact  collaboration needs and make adjustments in schedule or allocation of resources. Sports team coaches collaborate effectively under extreme time constraints.

3. Access to People and Ideas

Access to people is essential for effective collaboration, though people who you may request to collaborate with need to be open and honest about their time and interest to support collaboration.  At the same time, proper allocation of resources is especially important to enable collaboration to occur across functional groups.

A prime example is the IBM Research project to build the Watson supercomputer that challenged the Jeopardy grand champions. The project leader, Dr. David Ferrucci, Watson Principal Investigator, asked the question of potential collaborators (as recorded in the company’s video),

“I was looking for people who were willing to say, I have an idea. I think we can get there from here.”

4. Tool Selection

Now despite a  wide array of current technologies, choosing the appropriate tool or combination of tools could affect the timing and quality of results to foster the best collaborative community interaction.  Consider these frequently used tools and tips.

Skype/teleconference. One of the fastest approaches to get a large group (25 people) to weigh in on a topic is teleconferencing; Skype’s IM and add-on recording features are a real plus.  Don’t forget to prepare an agenda and topic summary, which are beneficial to circulate beforehand.

Web conference. Biggest hang up using web conferencing is familiarity for some presenters. Using the various web conferencing features expands the ability to integrate materials and encourage interaction, including sharing host/participant mic, remote applications, IM chats, whiteboarding, session recording, and sharing docs.

Groupware. Google Groups and Yahoo Groups are among the most popular groupware tools on special interest topics, and especially useful in bringing individuals together from outside your organization to engage in sharing docs and email discussion threads.  Google Groups currently hosts 185,640 groups, led by 49,378 in Asia.

Discussion forums. Community discussion forums are currently underutilized and fragmented, similar to Facebook discussion board posting, where discussions are brief and in the moment, at best.  Your favorite websites where forums are painstakingly nurtured but well worth the effort may be your best prototype in building your own discussion forum.  Trailspace is one of my favorite forums that is run for outdoor recreational enthusiasts and review of outdoor gear.

Instant messaging (IM) and texting. Quick collaboration vehicles like IM tend to fragment information, but workable if a Q&A approach is enabling collaborators to append the discussion thread within a given domain.  For example, IM usage gives teams an “always on” connected feeling.

Emailing. Overuse of email distribution lists have turned people away to respond to collaboration requests. Small teams may be effective to collaborate through pending review cycles and imposing a deadline.

Wikis. Project sites and collaboration docs come together quickly using wiki’s web page building tools. Wikis will also enable in-depth inputs over a duration and are typically done when there is less dependency on timely responses. Microsoft SharePoint, Google websites, and open source wiki applications serve as collaboration repositories for collecting research and review docs.

5. Motivation

Lastly, but maybe most important, collaboration requires recruiting people through motivation.  An often heard expression, ‘what’s in it for me’ (WII.FM) may be your first voiced concern.  When you are recruiting then, consider several attractors, like strong leadership, a well-crafted and passionate mission statement, and enticing stakeholder benefits, to engage active participation.  Then, get creative– collaboration will fall into place.

Would you like to share effective collaboration strategies that you’ve had success with? Please feel free to comment here.