Not all collaboration types are equal

Talking about collaboration in general terms is easy. I’ve done it and so has everyone else. It’s time now to dig deeper into the specifics of collaboration, meaning the different types – asynchronous vs. synchronous, vertical vs. horizontal – and how different companies fit into the magic collaboration quadrant. And yes, the quadrant is indeed magical.

Let’s start with the two types of collaboration that are time-relevant, asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous collaboration takes place outside of real-time. The best example of a ubiquitous asynchronous collaboration tool is email. You send an email and the receiver has time to digest the information. The drawback to asynchronous communication is that it’s inadequate as a means of communicating a sense of urgency. You have to wait for someone to respond to an email and that lack of immediacy can cause damage in troubleshooting or problem solving situations. Email replies tend to include the original message for context because you can’t rely on the timing of the message to keep the context.

On the other side of that collaboration coin, you have synchronous collaboration. Synchronous communication takes place like a conversation and more closely resembles a face-to-face interaction. A chat session is the ideal illustration of this concept. The obvious benefit to synchronous collaboration is the ability to send and receive information right away. This adds to the feeling of immediacy and tends to provide a more effective means of working together to solve issues in real-time.

Now that we have that covered, it’s time to move to the other defining aspect of collaboration: whether it’s vertical or horizontal. Vertical collaboration consists of problem solving tools that are domain-specific. An example of a vertical collaboration tool is one built for certain parts of the business like Salesforce for the Sales & Marketing teams or Rally for the development team. Horizontal collaboration consists of non-domain specific tools, meaning that they have potential use across all teams of an organization. Project management tools like Campfire or remote meeting solutions like or WebEx are examples of horizontal collaboration tools which tend to be widely adopted but lack the ability to really go very deep in helping in a domain-specific way.

Check out the quadrant I created to better show where different companies currently fit into the ever-growing collaboration landscape, based on the definitions provided above.


When looking at the state of collaboration tools, it’s interesting to note where most companies land within the quadrant. Why so few vertical synchronous ones? I’ll answer that next time.

About the author  ⁄ Todd Vernon

Todd Vernon, CEO and founder of VictorOps, has 20 years of IT management experience. He was doing DevOps before it was called DevOps. He was CTO at Raindance Communications and helped to take the company public. After that, he was CEO of Lijit Networks, which was grown into one of the largest real-time ad exchange platforms on the internet.