With a big thank you to Jennifer Cashman of Cisco who presented at last November’s Third Tuesday Forum, here are some tips to foster collaboration and usage of internal discussion forums. Several were directly inspired by her talk; others come from my experience with other clients.

Start at the top. The cultural change will be wrenching, so you need to make sure the top brass is bought into it. A traditional emphasis on cases closed will derail all efforts toward more collaboration.

And at the bottom. Don’t build it and think they will come. Internal users, especially techies, are finicky when it comes to the tools they use so organize a superuser group to guide development and implementation.

Ignore the hierarchy — of job levels, that is. Status in the collaboration community should be driven by contributions instead. You can use a point system, recognizing contributions, “correct” answers, even ratings of information, or you can use a more diffuse system of badges, but either way status should be earned.

Kill email. As you know this is one of my favorite rant topics! Here, the idea is to remove internal email aliases. If you are sending email to a list it’s probably best to post it in one common area anyway.

Think of a rewards system. Badges and other gamification ideas will inspire support engineers to contribute but it would be even better to integrate the collaboration contributions into the regular metrics, alongside other measures of productivity. And include participation in collaboration efforts in promotion criteria.

Make it open. The community will be focused on support but I would invite Engineering, Consulting, Product Marketing to participate as they see fit. It could even be a substitute for more costly Engineering escalations. Partners may also want to join the fun.

Harvest. The internal community should be filled with wonderful information fit to be harvested, summarized, and nicely structured for instant reuse, internally and perhaps externally.

Make it seamless. This is an expensive and complex proposition but if you can integrate “my work” (my cases) and “the team’s work” (cases where I can provide assistance), it will easier to contribute quick answers — hence collaboration will increase.

Embrace Babel. Internal communities work best when everyone participates and everyone speaks the same language. At the same time, it can be difficult to express oneself correctly in a non-native language. Consider allowing questions to be posed in the language of the asker’s choice, to be translated later if needed through an automatic translator.