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How Technology Undermines Online Culture

In The Collaborative Organization, Jacob Morgan (best-selling author, futurist, and leading keynote speaker on the future of work, employee experience, & leadership) suggests the following sequence occurs: We fear >>> we don’t trust >>> we don’t take risks >>> we don’t collaborate.

With respect to collaborating online, Trust Changers proposes that the sequence becomes a cycle that cannot be overcome without investing in employee training and engagement to foster high-trust online environments.


Part 1 of the Collaborative-Technology Uncertainty Cycle

When new technologies are introduced without intentional effort to ensure people know how to think critically, communicate, and collaborate online, repetitive waves of doubt undermine culture over time.

  1. We fear what could go wrong.
  2. Supportive resources (training, coaching, etc.) are not, or minimally, provided.
  3. We don’t trust ourselves, others, the culture, or the technology.
  4. We don’t take risks and we don’t collaborate.
  5. We feel frustrated because the technology isn’t helping as promised.
  6. We are reminded to use the technology and reassured that support is coming.
  7. Developing supportive resources is an afterthought, so adequate help does not come.
  8. We feel it’s not worthwhile to learn new tools. And the cycle starts again as we fear what could go wrong.

Sadly, many organizations are aware of this cycle, but they struggle to get a handle on what’s really needed to realize exceptional value when integrating new technologies.

  • They don’t treat the implementation of new tools as change-management projects driven by people and culture.
  • They don’t recognize that people give tools value, not the other way around.

If people don’t spend time to agree on how to use collaborative technology and integrate it into workflows, then it is likely doomed to patchy, inconsistent use.

It gets worse. Too often, rather than address the real issues—people and culture—organizations repetitively throw new technology at the problem, causing a secondary cycle.

Part 2 of the Collaborative-Technology Uncertainty Cycle

When the organization repeatedly tries to fix the issue by replacing the tool, uncertainty spreads like wildfire.

  1. Around the time people realize that supportive resources aren’t coming (step 7 of the original cycle), rumors that a new technology will solve the issue start to appear.
  2. Someone in power believes fewer supportive resources will be required with the right tool.
  3. Without engaging the organization to collect input, a new tool is purchased (in addition to or in replacement of the previous tool). And people dive right back into part 1 of the Collaborative-Technology Uncertainty Cycle again, where we feel that it’s not worthwhile to learn new tools (step 8 of part 1).

At least when tools are idle, companies know they can cut them. Technologies used poorly or in small pockets can hang around for years, sucking collaborative energy from organizations by splitting attention in too many directions and undermining trust that it’s worthwhile to learn new tools. Additionally, each new tool adds to operational burden by over stretching IT, communications, and other required support.

    This Week’s Resource: A Collaborative-Technology Inventory (Excel) Spreadsheet

    Our goal at Trust Changers is to build trust, improve online communications and collaborations, speed up work, and reduce operational/technology costs. We do that by providing employee training and engagement to foster high-trust online environments, but we can’t help organizations unless leadership is onboard.

    Use the Collaborative-Technology Inventory (Excel) Spreadsheet to:

    1. Take an inventory of how many collaborative tools your organization offers.
    2. Identify where they overlap.
    3. Sort them by launch date to see if your organization may be suffering from the Collaborative-Technology Uncertainty Cycle.

    Then, if you’re ready to go deeper, columns are included to work with service owners:

    1. Figure out which tools are being used most often.
    2. Compare/contrast associated costs.

    As you fill out the spreadsheet, ask yourself:

    • If employees had common foundational skills for critical thinking, collaborating, and communicating online, what kind of value would that add across your collaborative technologies?
    • If employees agreed on how to use technologies, which technologies offered the most benefit, and why, could you eliminate patchily-used technologies?
    • If you had an online-community manager (trained by the Trust Changers’ team) to help employees transition to and continue learning new technologies over time, how would that change your organization’s trajectory?
    • What’s your 5-year plan? As the next generation of technologies (artificial intelligence, extended reality, quantum computing, and blockchain) become more common, are your employees ready for that kind of complexity? Should you take steps now to ensure they are better prepared for the post-digital revolution?

    Trust Changers' Story

    • 79% believe Americans have "far too little" or "too little" confidence in each other
    • 70% believe Americans’ low trust in each other makes it harder to solve the country’s problems
    • 64% believe Americans' level of trust in each other has been shrinking
    • 58% believe it is "very important" the level of confidence Americans have in each other be improved
    • 25% believe Americans' level of confidence in each other is a very big problem

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