Depending on their level of cynicism, people believe that humans naturally collaborate, or naturally don't. While there are individuals at each end of the spectrum, most are somewhere in the middle and can be encouraged to collaborate under the right conditions. IT leaders should ignore the reluctant minority and work on motivating the majority of workers who can be persuaded to collaborate when expectations are clear and collaborative behaviors are rewarded.*
I believe people are social by nature and will collaborate. However, what people will collaborate on and how they will collaborate with each other is a different story- especially in the workplace. Sure, people will talk about the things they're working on, they'll seek advice from trusted colleagues and they may even do some group brainstorming, but in order to be effective collaborative efforts must align vertically within in the department/division/business unit, as well as horizontally across the company.
We know from Prof. Morten T. Hansen's book Collaboration How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results there are four major barriers to collaboration: search, transfer, "not invented here" (NIH) and hoarding. Each of these barriers play a role if people will or will not collaborate. People will not collaborate if they feel uncomfortable asking for ideas (NIH) as they feel they may be percieved as offering little to no value to the larger picture. They may also feel to proud to rely on others, so they push back and insist on doing everything themselves with a myopic view of deliverables. The tragedy is these same people could take existing ideas and build upon them with value-add, increasing their value to the company with lower cost, greater benefit, and faster time to market on new offerings in a collaborative manner. People who hoard their value are more often then not open to collaboration, but they want to be recognized as the "go to" person for information. Unfortunately, they limit the amount of information they share at any one time requiring people to come back again and again for answers. The irony of this situation is the very person who's looking to be recognized as the expert and hoarding their knowledge is the same person who will complain about everybody coming to them for advice. Essentially, they become a bottleneck for collaborative information flow.
The last part of if people will or will not collaborate comes down to the forum. It's easier to spur useful conversation in a room with physical presence- why? Because somebody will be moderating the meeting, asking questions, driving topics, calling on people for their thoughts and ideas. Other forums assume people will proactively publish their ideas and knowledge to forums such as: wikis, blogs, e-mail, and discussion threads. This challenge speaks to the search and transfer barriers in what are the right vehicles for collaboration and how to provide incentives for people to use those vehicles. Having the right set of vehicles in terms of technology is key, but also having the processes defined that drive adoption of those vehicles and tools for collaborative efforts. Without the processes and technologies properly defined you have chaos and while there will be great information scattered throughout that chaotic environment, finding that information and using it is neither effective nor efficient.
The only way to drive a spirit of collaboration is through collaboration by example. Leadership must work together to define the horizontal goals and communicate those goals down through their organization. They must recognize and reward those who collaborate and change the behavior of those who don't. Only in that way will people collaborate more readily, but also more effectively.
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