Quantum2 Topic of the Month — Collaboration: Easy to Say, Hard to Do
Many information professionals are beginning to recognise the emerging opportunity that collaboration tools provide to them for facilitating shared knowledge in expert communities, to name just one example. But just how easy is it to incorporate it into daily workflow?
Guest writer, Robin Neidorf of Free Pint Ltd shares her insight.
In the Enterprise 2.0 era, collaboration is on everyone's lips and in every department's strategic plan. Email was one of the technologies to make a serious impact on breaking down silos of information. The ease of forwarding information and in fact, the entire history of discussion with colleagues, has enabled many project teams to pull in specific expertise or ideas based on emerging needs. (It has also damaged the reputation of many through an itchy 'send' finger... but that's another story.)
But email is hardly ideal for multi-way conversations. Collaboration champions began to encourage use of wikis and internal blogs with commentary as a more effective way to bring a wide range of input to the proverbial table. The only trouble was... the majority of workers wouldn't 'wiki.'
The new technology was perceived as cumbersome. It was new, and it forced workers to leave their regular workflow to participate (unlike email, which has been firmly embedded in workflow).
User adoption of wikis and wiki-like tools has increased in the past few years, but it still has a long way to go. The technology has gotten easier to use, and workers are more familiar with the processes required for seeding and reaping value from collaborative tools. But the real issue isn't technology — it's that 'collaboration' is easy to say but very hard to do.
Learning to Share
No one understands better than information professionals how valuable information is. When something is of value, we tend to try to protect it. Traditionally, the perception has been that having information others didn't have meant having power. In Enterprise 2.0, on the other hand, having information that others don't have means being isolated. Individual workers, project teams, departments and even entire companies need to share information — which can sometimes feel very threatening.
To shift to an information-sharing rather than information-hoarding culture, start at the local level, within project teams or departments where trust and familiarity already exist. Conducting a knowledge audit within the team — a process through which all members of the team pool their knowledge to identify strengths as well as gaps — can be an easy-win for demonstrating the value of sharing.
Know Thyself — and Thy Stuff
On an individual level, workers can become better collaborators by having a clear understanding of what they can and do contribute to business outcomes. A personal information audit is an excellent practice. Periodically (quarterly is a good goal to aim for), conduct a structured review of what you have and what you know. In this process capture:
- Who you know, internally and externally, and why they are important to your work; store this data in an easy-to-search environment (not your head!)
- Your current project files, archives, and 'pending' files, keeping and cataloguing only the most current documentation in each
- Tacit knowledge about your job, recent or current projects or business tools; create and maintain a system for documenting your favorite shortcuts, go-to resources and after-action learnings.
With your personal information audit, you can make informed decisions about how you can best contribute to business success (you can also make a powerful case for your value at review or promotion time). You can be the natural leader on truly collaborative teams, demonstrating how to put your knowledge, skills and experience into the service of shared goals. Like all advances, it takes some personal and organizational investment, but the returns realized are generous.
Robin Neidorf is the General Manager of Free Pint Limited, publisher of FUMSI (Find, Use, Manage, Share Information: http://www.fumsi.com/). FUMSI's free article database (http://web.fumsi.com/go/article/) offers additional tips on Enterprise 2.0 and collaborative work environments, particularly in the Share (http://web.fumsi.com/go/article/share/) category. A free subscription to FreePint (http://www.freepint.com/subs/) keeps readers informed about the latest additions to the FUMSI database.