How do you measure how collaborative your team is?

This is actually quite a difficult question and i’m genuinely interested to know what you think, so please feel free to comment below.

It’s hard to measure ‘collaboration’. Firstly, you can’t ask someone if they’re collaborative. Of course they are!

You can measure it indirectly though through proxy metrics. One metric I’m exploring with my teams is — How many messages are sent in open channels of communication.

I define an open channel of communication as: one where a person can get full access to a piece of data (or if you’re human, information) and be certain that it’s the most up to date version of that piece of data (information).

For example:

  • Messages that are shared in a channel in slack, are in an open channel of communication because anyone can, but doesn’t have to, join the channel and the data that’s there is always the most up to date version.
  • Messages that are shared via email are in a close channel of communication because the data can be fragmented and diverge without all recipients being aware, leading to uncertainty about the sovereignty of the piece of data.

Given the definition above, my proxy metric assumes that:

  • More messages sent in open channels, the more available the data is, the more collaborative the team is.
  • The more messages sent in closed channels, emails, DMs etc., the less available the data is, the team is less collaborative.

It’s hard to enumerate all the open and closed channels available to a team / organisation. So i’m starting with the data that’s most available.

Slack and Microsoft Teams provide some data which can point us in the right direction and allow me to compare against my subjective experience.

My team:

  • Number of Messages in open channels: 81%.
  • Number of Messages in closed channels: 19%.
  • Quite collaborative.

A team similar to mine in another part of the business:

  • Number of messages in open channels: 18%.
  • Number of messages in closed channels: 82%.
  • Not very collaborative.

Company wide:

  • Number of messages in open channels: 19%.
  • Number of messages in closed channels 81%.
  • Not very collaborative.

Does this proxy metric scale?

Obviously comparing a team of 10 to a company of 5000, or even to another team is fraught with dangers. There could be a bunch of reasons why more messages are in closed channels which has no impact on collaboration:

  • People aren’t familiar with the tools and capabilities i.e. they could just be using one aspect of the tool i.e. DMs and not the other features such as channels.
  • Collaboration is happening elsewhere
  • Most people aren’t using Slack or Teams.

However, if these conversations are happening, and they’re happening elsewhere then ‘collaboration’ is still limited to the people or teams involved; exactly as they are in DMs or Private Channels. There is still no way for the rest of the team or organisation to learn from that information, and for it to be absorbed into the wider collective intelligence of the organisation.

What does it mean for the conversation are ARE happening now?

In the last 180 days there were 5.14 million messages sent across the whole business in closed channels of communication (Teams Chat and DM’s, Emails, Skype for Business Messages).

Was there really no information in those messages that would have been better served being posted in an open channel, to the benifit of the wider company? How many times was that information duplicated and potentially corrupted just to be sent on to other individuals?