Collaborating in a Social Era – Oscar Berg

by | Oct 8, 2015 | Digital workplace, Information Management, Intranets, Reviews

My collection of books on collaboration is quite large. Many are in the loft because the authors have little of interest to say, often scaling up a collaborative working approach in a specific organisation to a generic model. Two books have stood the test of repeated reading are Collaboration Roadmap by Michael Sampson and Collaboration by Morten Hansen. For some years now I have benefited substantially from Oscar Berg‘s blog. He always has something interesting to say and so I was delighted when Intranatverk added a book by Oscar to what has the promise of being a very good portfolio of books. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I met up with Oscar for the first time, thanks to an invitation from Kristian Norling to participate in an Intranatverk event in Malmo.

The subtitle of the book is “Ideas, insights and models that inspire new ways of thinking about collaboration”, which sums the book up in a sentence. The 250 page is divided up into 15 chapters. I’m not going to list them all but just a few will give you a sense of the ethos of the book

  • The curse of physical proximity
  • The struggling knowledge worker
  • The tyranny of email
  • Making change happen

At the heart of this book a collaboration pyramid model that Oscar developed in 2012. The top three layers (act; coordinate; form a team) are elements of a structured team-based collaboration approach. The next five layers (contribute; communicate and connect; find and discover people; share what you know, have, think and do; and make yourself visible and participate) are more social in nature. Oscar makes the point that to enable collaboration to happen naturally across groups and locations an organisation must help its employees perform the activities in these five lower levels. However these are difficult to scale beyond organisational groups and geographic locations.

This book is full of wisdom and diagrams, both of which are usually absent from books on collaboration (the two mentioned above are distinguished exceptions) together with a good collection of references. The literature on collaboration is vast – I was surprised to find that I have collected close to 400 reports and research papers on collaboration in just four years! The wisdom comes from the nature of Oscar’s work as a consultant, where clearly he has stepped back at the end of each engagement to do a classic ‘lessons learned’ exercise. The diagrams are of great value as a tool to initiate discussions inside an organisation and can be downloaded from Flickr. A very generous offer,

I know from our discussion in Malmo that Oscar does not see this as the definitive book on collaboration. To me what is missing is a discussion about the challenges of virtual teams and of organisational/national cultures. As an information scientist and a chemist I feel that the move sideways into information value in Chapter 6, and its metaphor of information being like water, do not quite work. As a note to Intranatverk, your books need a detailed contents page or an index, but having neither makes it difficult to dip into the book.

That apart this is a book that will make you think about collaboration in some very useful ways, and the problem in most organisations is that the technology comes before the thinking. For another perspective on this book read Martin Risgaard’s review.  I can recommend this book very highly indeed. It sits alongside my two established favourites and I have reserved a space for Oscar’s next book on the subject.

Martin White