By Alexander Klier Feb 15, 2015

Translation of the Original Article by Alexander Klier

At the end of 2014 the MIT Sloane Management Review published, together with the Boston Consulting Group, and - for the first time - also with the Global Compact of the United Nations, a study entitled "Joining Forces. Collaboration and Leadership for Sustainability ". The results are not really surprising, but worth noting is that it above all attributes such a great importance on the theme of Networking. Even more apparent: "The Importance of Corporate Collaboration" shows that only an adequate networking and business cooperation can contribute to develop into actual economic and social sustainability. I pick up on this particular aspect of the study, because it is paradigmatically suitable, to relate it to a basic structure of social collaboration in companies.

Social + Collaboration = Sustainability?

A social (business) collaboration is based on the fact that in a work process those collaborate - and communicate with each other - that together create products as part of a workflow and process or provide services. If a collaboration succeeds as part of a change process in a company, then there will be a variety of different communities and projects with commonly shared resources. The various forms of interaction, networking and common communication move to the center. This makes social collaboration platforms interesting in principle as a technical application and for networking with the outside world of the company. Or more accurately actual: for a stronger cooperation and collaboration with other companies and customers. Also for NGOs, sustainability initiatives and for various local organizations. Intended in the context of the study social collaboration platforms in principle provide also a (technical) model of the practical organization of cooperation in the spirit of sustainable development. This can also change corporate sustainability, namely the model of opportunistic and occasional project funding "that often produced tense relationships with the Public Sector" to "strategic and transformational initiatives did engage multiple entities" (Pg. 5).

It is still a long way, …

Sustainability is neither an easy model, nor a simple trodden path. True corporate sustainability will only work if the concern is reflected in the control of the core processes. Especially one of them to form the incentive to operate sustainably in the global supply chain via appropriate KPIs. This goal can only be reached through strategic business networks. In other words: in order to cope with „some of the toughest sustainability issues, such as access to stressed or nonrenewable resources, avoiding human rights violations in value chains or moderating climate change“ (Pg. 3) various organizations and different stakeholders have to cooperate.

This also requires – in addition to the readiness to such an approach – concrete structures that enable the necessary communication and interaction. Actually, an ideal field for social collaboration platforms. If there has been such a strategic coalition and cooperation, it is for example in a position „(to) send a strong message to suppliers that they need to care more about where their resources come from and under what conditions their products are manufactured“ (pg. 10). Further organizations and especially the suppliers can now technically be involved in the collaboration.

… which becomes passable in the context of a Social Sustainable Collaboration.

According to the study by the MIT a key success factor for true sustainability is a successful social collaboration. A collaboration that starts from the quality of its internal social collaboration, however, reaches far beyond the enterprise boundaries. The quality of the internal collaboration is insofar a measure of how well the network can function outwards. And finally, an indicator of how sustainable the company's strategy is in the long run. Therefore, in my view, the core message of the study with regard to the sustainability is that the peculiar strength of "classic" social collaboration platforms can be used to expand beyond enterprise boundaries. The successful internal networking further enables finding and integrating the right people for the tasks, and finally building the crucial (trusting) connections. For this the expansion could also mean „(to) overcome cultural barriers that might exist, while also building personal relationships that foster good communication“ (pg. 12). That is why a real social collaboration is the right step towards sustainability and is respectively self-sustainable.