An organization's corporate culture is, arguably, the most important single indicator of how effective e-mail, instant messaging and other collaborative technologies will be in helping that organization become successful. No communication or collaboration technology can help an organization succeed if the underlying corporate culture is unable to make effective use of new technologies.In a 2002 article entitled, "Knowing What We Know: Supporting Knowledge Creation and Sharing in Social Networks," the authors noted four characteristics that mark effective relationships:1. Knowing what someone else knows.2. Having access to people who possess necessary knowledge.3. Information providers adapt their knowledge to information seekers' problems.4. New solutions arise from feeling comfortable in sharing one's lack of knowledge.For example, a sales representative attempting to respond to a customer's important and time-sensitive inquiry while that customer is on the phone needs to know who in the organization has the information he or she needs to answer the inquiry (Point 1). He or she needs to know how to access at least one of those people immediately (Point 2). The information holder needs to be able to resolve the issue quickly by providing information in a useful format (Point 3). Plus, the sales representative needs to be able to confess his or her ignorance about the subject of the inquiry to both the customer and the internal information holders who can help the solve problem (Point 4).Clearly, e-mail, IM, Web conferencing and other collaboration tools can be extremely useful as enablers in making relationships more effective. For example, a directory-driven knowledge base that identifies each employee's subject-matter expertise, tied together with a presence-management system, can be extremely useful in satisfying Points 1 and 2. Tying that capability in with a Web conferencing system that allows an information holder to initiate an ad hoc meeting to display diagrams or other useful information would satisfy Point 3. However, the technology will be almost totally ineffective, and will go almost completely unused, if the corporate culture discourages employees from sharing their lack of knowledge or asking for help.In short, corporate culture is the fundamental infrastructure upon which e-mail, IM and other collaboration tools operate - without an adequate culture in place, no amount of technology will make an organization successful.I'd like to hear your thoughts on this issue, particularly if your organization's corporate culture either supports or discourages the use of collaboration and communication technologies. Please drop me a line at mailto:email@example.com.