Who owns enterprise collaboration?

If you want something to work properly in an organisation, you give someone responsibility for it. You don’t leave it to chance and simply hope that it gets done. Companies would never dream of not having someone in charge of legal, or communications, or widget production, so why is it that so many organisations are leaving enterprise collaboration inappropriately managed?

Many an intranet expert has waxed-lyrical on the core characteristics of an intranet. Interact Intranet proposed a simple three-way model of communication, business process and collaboration; James Robertson of StepTwo spoke eloquently in his talk “Intranets that delight and amaze” about the need to make things simpler and to connect people; and we’ve also proposed our own top 10 characteristics.

A good number of these characteristics have clear business owners, affording them the focus they need from a business perspective and providing an obvious stakeholder for intranet teams. If you include representation from your internal communication team,your HR and your finance teams, you’re almost there. But there’s one glaring omission: Who is responsible for enterprise collaboration?

Everyone’s Responsible For Collaboration

The flippant answer to the question is that everyone is responsible for collaboration and in a way, it’s true. We are all the participants, we are all the receivers of the output and we are all stakeholders. But in reality, we’re players of the collaboration game where others define the pitch we use (the technology) and someone is appointed referee to guide us and stop inappropriate behaviours. Caroline Dangson makes the excellent point that this is more about guidance and leadership than control (a point that we also support) but regardless of your approach, who is it that guides, leads or controls (if that’s your wont)?

In my company, it’s …

The risk in not having an owner to guide enterprise collaboration is that it simply doesn’t get done and, as a result, collaboration is not as good as it should be. So who owns it? Jane McConnell postulated a few potential owners in her 2009 post, so let’s take a look at the contenders.


What is the remit of the IT department in your organisation? Are they simply there to maintain a service? Will they recommend technology platforms such as Yammer, Chatter, SocialText, Newsgator and more. Or are they tasked with a deeper purpose around improving the way in which people work?

The systems and platforms are the collaboration game pitches. They shape the mechanic of the game, but don’t define the rules of engagement.


HR know a great deal about transactions, human processes and behaviours, but are they best placed to own collaboration on behalf of the business? We’re not sure. They do however have a really important role to play through provision of accurate employee profiles which are often the start of the collaboration process.

In the collaboration game they pick the team that will work together best – but they don’t pick the plays.

Internal Communications?

They know a thing or two about audiences, messages and communication vehicles, but collaboration is an entirely different beast. It’s not top-down; it’s peer-to-peer.  Its not about ‘making sure the message gets to the right people’ its about directly influencing how effectively people work together.

They are probably most like the coach – sitting on the sidelines and shout strategy from the manager. But, if the game is going to plan their role is more of a cheerleader.

Business Strategy?

This team are within a good shout of getting the job. They are often very collaborative in their methodology so have a sharp appreciation of what works and of what’s needed. They are also focused on the future of the business and the respective change management. Effective collaboration is clearly a desirable output.

The problem with Strategy teams is that, while they have a good view of the perfect world and how thing could and should work – they often don’t appreciate the realities of everyday and the ‘on the ground’ implementation of the strategy is done by someone else.

Maybe the answer is a little more complex

With something as fundamental as how people interact and work together it seems that picking a single area of ‘ownership’ may be simplifying the problem too far.

Strategy need to define the problems and how improved collaboration solves them. IT need to implement and maintain systems to support that vision. HR need to influence the culture and people to support the vision. Internal Comms tie all of this together and support the other teams.  Everyone has their own area of ownership.

But in the world of business someone has to be the decision maker and the purse holder and be ‘the face’ of change.  Who should this be when there is no clear business area or team to wear the badge?

Maybe the best idea is to let personalities decide ownership.  Who in your organisation collaborates best today? Who demonstrates those values and behaviours the clearest? Who is interested and engaged in making the company more collaborative?  Who has a budget that they might be willing to spend on making collaboration happen?

Who is responsible in your organisation?

In various twitter threads on this topic, it became clear that there appears no consistent answer to the question of enterprise collaboration management and indeed, many organisations have yet to give ownership. What’s the story of  collaboration in your organisation? Let us know via the poll or in the comments.



Who has responsibility for enterprise collaboration in your workplace?

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There are 8 comments

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  1. Jonas Dahl

    Your are so spot on with your question. In so many organization a lot of good people want to decide how the intranet and digital workplace should look like, but many of these people are not responsible in any way for the succes of online collaboration.

    In our organisation we have made a strategic board and a product decision board with people from the dirrent business units. They are responsible for making it possibly to do online collaboration in an effective way. IT facilitates these boards and act as an advisor.

    • Jacob Morgan

      Great post Jonathan. We do work with a lot of companies around collaboration and see a pretty wide mix of things. In larger enterprises we also quite a lot of business unit ownership; for example someone that runs a particular department might be driving collaboration just for that department (which in a large enterprise can be thousands of employees). We also see special teams created comprised of various employees from other departments.

      The question of “who owns collaboration” is commonly asked but I don’t believe there is one answer that applies to all companies nor is there one approach that all companies can take. I’ve seen initiatives grow to be successful for any number of departments. The answer to the question ultimately comes down to, “whoever can most successfully drive and support collaboration.”

      It’s interesting because oftentimes business managers tell us “we can’t wait for corporate to decide so we are just going to deploy something for our team.” The priority for many business unit leaders is just their business unit, not the enterprise; a bit counter-intuitive to collaboration but it makes sense when you think about the typical hierarchical structure within most companies.

  2. Richard Rashty

    Agree to a point that everyone is responsible to be collaborative, BUT they will do so only to the extent that the collaboration does not hurt them professionally, diminishing their personal brand. Successful Collaboration is about trust, honesty, emotion, and relationships…if those do not exist or collaboration is forced, then you will have passive and active resistance, which leads to breakdown of corporate culture.

    As for Organizational and Financial ownership, in my “perfect” world the Business Strategy Group would be the process owner, with partnerships with CHrO and CIO. The construct of Collaboration, Digital, Social, Mobile, etc is an organizational asset and thus should be kept above the individual functions of the company.

    In practicality I think HR/Corp Communications should be the Internal process owner with IT being the technology owner\partner, with Global Marketing and Sales having direct influence as the emerging thought leadership and technology provides holistic opportunity for True Enterprise-wide Collaboration for all Stakeholders along the Value Chain.

  3. James Mullan

    Really interesting post Jonathan. It strikes me as someone who manages an intranet and to some extent our internal collaboration tools that you’re missing one department. This department is Knowledge Management or Knowledge & Information Services or whatever you’d like to call them.

    Individuals in this team will have a very good understanding of the tools that are available and will to some extent have used them. They’ll also be very collaborative themselves and will be used to managing and organising information and content.

  4. Drew Stephenson

    Hmmm. Not sure who owns it at our place. Intranet-enabled collaboration seems to be done intensely by a small group of individuals and largely ignored by the rest of the company. I think we’re still coming to terms with what we have and a great many people are unwilling to comment in a public space.
    I’ll worry more about ownership when we have more people actively using it.

  5. Perry Nouwens

    A new suggestion: Make somebody clearly responsible for Collaborative Innovation, based upon the principle to stimulate continuous learning across the total organization and even beyond (triggering the interesting sub question: who is actually responsbile for collaboration with your stakeholders outside your organization).
    Collaborative innovation is the capability in the organization that needs to be build upon cross-departmental and cross (functional) silo cooperation, believing that the value of an individual is more about what you share than what you know. For me, innovation is the most strong business reason why people need to collaborate. If you plan to appoint somebody, do not forget to allocate the budget too…

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