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The Five-Step Maturity Model for Building a Collaborative Organization

Posted by on April 11, 2013

In my book, The Collaborative Organization, I featured a maturity model that Chess Media Group created based on our client experience and research.  The purpose of the maturity model is to help organizations where they are today, where they should go in the future and the value of doing so, and how to get there.  Organizations typically fall into one of five types of categories when it comes to collaboration in the enterprise.  These are:

  • The unaware organization
  • The exploratory organization
  • The defined organization
  • The adoptive organization
  • The adaptive organization

Here is a simplified version of the maturity model:

collaboration maturity model simplified

When the collaborative capabilities of an organization increase, so does the business value that the organization will realize.    Let’s take a look at these 5 types of organizations in more details (much more comprehensive information and a grid is available in the book).

The Unaware Organization

Not surprisingly, unaware organizations are just that…unaware.  Meaning, they are not really up to speed on what is happening around collaboration and the future of work; they just don’t know what they don’t know.  Manager resistance is going to be strongest at this stage as value and business cases have not yet been established.  There is also a high degree of uncertainty and fear as the organization tries to understand how emergent (or social) collaboration applies to the way it works.  The opportunity and the upside for emergent collaboration here are great.

The Value

The value here is quite low, but the potential is the greatest.

The Exploratory Organization

At this stage organizations are spending more time researching and understanding what emergent collaboration is and how it can affect the business.  In fact, organizations here may start defining what this means and what it can look like.  Typically, organizations here start to see the possibilities of what can be done and begin to understand how emergent collaboration can solve business problems.  We also start to see the formations of teams that are going to help drive this initiative within the organization.  This is also where organizations will see most of their IT (and some manager) resistance.  To move to the defined stage, there needs to be a very solid understanding of what emergent collaboration means to the organization and a strategic direction and vision has to start forming.  Depending on the size of the organization, it can remain in this stage from one month to over three months.

The Value

The organization clearly sees where collaboration can benefit the enterprise.  The strategic value gap begins closing as the capabilities for emergent collaboration start to increase.  Teams begin forming that will be tackling this evolution of the organization.  The key value here lies in knowing that things can be improved.  The organization starts to get excited, and innovative ideas for collaboration begin flowing.  The organization is now educated on emergent collaboration.

The Defined Organization

Here the organization needs to have a clearly defined strategy and direction for the emergent collaboration efforts.  At this stage, the organization is getting ready to communicate and share the direction and vision and teams and roles are clearly defined.  We also see use cases developed, measures of success defined, and potential technology solutions selected.  To progress to the adoptive stage, organizations have to communicate their vision and direction for emergent collaboration and start implementing everything that was outlined and put together in the defined stage.  The process of defining emergent collaboration for the organization can usually be completed in one to three months.

The Value

The organization is one step closer to realizing the business value of emergent collaboration.  The strategic framework to make this happen is complete, and the organization is ready to begin implementing.

The Adoptive Organization

At this stage the organization is in the process of full implementation.  Everything has been explored, teams have been established, the vision has been communicated, measures of success have been established, risks have been evaluated, and the road map and strategy have been developed.  Organizations here can typically implement in one of four types of enterprise collaboration deployments.  This is the stage of greatest learning for the organization as progress is evaluated and bench-marked and feedback is continuously collected.  This stage can last from one to three years, depending on the size of the organization and how quickly things can get done.  Employee resistance here is greatest as they try to embrace new strategies and technologies at work.  The remainder of the emergent collaboration life cycle is spent in the adaptive stage.

The Value

Employees share anecdotal and data-driven information about the benefits of emergent collaboration.  Information starts to be easier to find and share.  Teams are more easily formed, and employees start to open up and trust one another.  Company morale begins to improve as employees begin to understand their roles and the roles of their colleagues better.  Senior-level leaders gain much greater insight into the way the organization operates.  The organization now sees opportunities to engage and inspire employees and to retain and attract new talent by being perceived as innovative and cutting edge.

The Adaptive Organization

This adaptive stage isn’t an end state; it’s a continuous cycle of improvement and evolution.  The adaptive organization has a very solid understanding of what works and what doesn’t and is capable of making the right decisions.  Organizations can easily regress into previous stages if, for example, they stop listening to and incorporating employee feedback into their efforts, which in turn can cause employees to abandon platforms.  If employees don’t feel supported and listened to, then chances are that adoption rates will never rise. The important thing here is that there are always going to be improvements, updates, changes to technologies, new best practices, new team members, new leaders, and evolved strategies.  An adaptive organization is one that learns what works and what doesn’t and is able to improve.

The Value

This is where the organization sees the greatest business value from emergent collaboration as problems are solved and successes are repeated.  Inefficiencies begin to be eliminated.  The organization is now able to adapt to new changes, behaviors, or feedback from employees.  Company morale increases as employees see that they have a voice and their feedback is being implemented. All necessary components for emergent collaboration are integrated, and sharing, finding, and collaborating on information are at their peak.  As new use cases emerge, the organization is quickly able to create solutions.  Productivity increases, and opportunities are identified and implemented regularly and efficiently that result in cost-saving or revenue-generating


Here is a more detailed version of the maturity mode (click to expand):

collaboration maturity model


For more detail on this model and strategic advice on everything from employee adoption, to vendor evaluation, to strategy development; check out my book, The Collaborative Organization, on Amazon.

  • HCL has created a framework around Collaboration and has filed a patent for the same. They call it Collaboration Adoption Framework (CAF). See a sample output attached.

    • Interesting, thanks for sharing this, much appreciated!

    • Ian McNeice

      Interesting! Salem™ is a full and complete internationally-recognised design-protected modular, collaboration framework invented in 2006. It already includes professional online certification tracks. Salem™ is an acronym for Sequenced & Logical Enterprise Methodology.

  • Anna Pham

    Love your model, this is so useful for students in management and business field like me.

  • Brad Szollose

    Brilliant work Jacob. As a Creative Director for many years, collaborative work environments have been such a normal part of my day-to-day, it never crossed my mind that there was any other way to work. In advertising, marketing and design, Collaboration is the ONLY way to work.

    But in today’s “multidisciplined” and cross-generational work environments, it is just awesome to see other non-creative types of organizations embracing such a secret weapon as the path to innovation.



    • Thanks for the kind words Brad, much appreciated! Collaborative work environments are not just a nice to have, they are absolutely essential, both from a digital and physical environment!