The ART of Collaboration (reprise)

I will be giving a talk to delegates from the Knowledge and Innovation Network (KIN) next week on the topic of “Gamification” (the integration of game principles and dynamics into non-game contexts in order to encourage participation).  This reminded me of a post I published in 2012, which touched on the issue of motivation (e.g. incentives and rewards) to drive more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.  I believe the key points in the earlier post are still relevant today, and hence this reprise.

“Knowledge can only be volunteered, it can’t be conscripted”. A quote from the redoubtable Dave Snowden. But is the same true for collaboration? If people are given the right tools and the right environment, will they spontaneously collaborate and share knowledge? Why do some people find it difficult to share and collaborate? Would incentives and rewards make a difference?

What is “collaboration”?

According to dictionary definitions, collaboration means:

  1. The act of working with another or others on a joint project
  2. Something created by working jointly with another or others
  3. The act of cooperating as a traitor, especially with an enemy occupying one’s own country.

I think we can discount point 3 from this discussion, but it is worth testing all three of these definitions with the behaviours described later in this blog post to determine whether there are consistent characteristics that can be applied to all three.

For the purpose of having one single, all-embracing definition, I prefer to use the following:

Collaboration is when individuals or groups work together, combining their strengths and negating weaknesses to accomplish a set of goals.

I think the important point about this definition is that the outcomes are more likely to be amplified when working together as opposed to individually.

Types of Collaboration

It might help our comprehension about what we mean by “collaboration” by looking at various collaborative models.

Peer to Peer Production

Not to be confused with P2P file sharing, such as BitTorrent. P2P production is defined as “any coordinated, (chiefly) internet-based effort whereby volunteers contribute project components, and there exists some process to combine them to produce a unified intellectual work”. Source: Wikipedia.

The process is one-step, meaning the user accesses some or part of an original file from a P2P community website, modifies or enhances the file in some way, and then submits the modified file back into the community.

Probably the best-known examples of peer-to-peer production networks are the Apache Foundation Network and the Linux network (8000 developers from 800 countries). Other collaborative networks include ccMixter, a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music and Remix The Video, and Scratch, for creating interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art for sharing on the web.

As part of my research for this presentation I attended a lecture at City University London, given by Dr Stephen Clulow, who described the motivators for peer-to-peer collaboration as:

  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness (knowing what you are doing is appreciated by others).

I’ll come back to motivators later in this post.

The Digital Workplace

Collaboration in the workplace is now high on the priority list of many organisations seeking to leverage social technologies to free-up knowledge and provide opportunities for co-creation, co-production and innovation.

I particularly liked this diagram and explanation from Jane McConnell at Net Strategy (reproduced below):

Digital Workplace

Source: http://netjmc.com/digital-workplace/digital-workplace-in-brief-5-fundamentals

  • The managed dimension includes business applications and validated, authoritative, reference content. It is primarily internal but extends partially into the client-partner sphere for inter-enterprise projects and processes.
  • The structured collaborative dimension involves teamwork on projects with specific goals, deliverables and timelines. It overlaps with both social collaboration and the managed dimension.
  • The social collaborative dimension is self-organizing. It includes social networking, micro blogging, community building and other social features such as user-generated content. This dimension stretches the furthest into the public world and is deliberately drawn off the chart because it is the biggest unknown today and triggers the most apprehension in management.

David Gauntlet has defined the motivators for collaboration in the digital workplace in his book “Making Is Connecting” as:

  • Pleasure
  • To feel an active participation
  • A wish to be recognised.

I’ll come back to motivators later in this post, but first, let’s look at what prevents people from collaborating and sharing knowledge.

Barriers to collaboration

Understanding the barriers and obstacles is the first step to identifying potential solutions. Individuals acting alone may not be empowered to make the desired changes, but if there is a real desire to collaborate and share knowledge, most if not all of these obstacles can be overcome or circumvented.

In no particular order:

Knowledge is power

Knowledge and information hoarders exist in every organisation. However, their knowledge is likely to be one-dimensional and limited to their own small network. This can’t compare to the wealth of knowledge in social networks. A case of “none of us is smarter than all of us”.

Fear of change

There is no doubting that we live in far more uncertain times, where change and complexity is all around us. Holding back change is a bit like King Canute – with same outcome!

Can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Some people will never change. Accept it and move on.

Command and control

We don’t collaborate because there’s a real or perceived hierarchy in the workplace. Over the years, the leadership has developed a culture that appears to value one person or group over another.

WIIFM

What’s in it for me? It’s reasonable to seek value in what you do; otherwise you’ll consider your actions as being a waste of time.

Lack of time

The research report “Why Businesses Don’t Collaborate” cites the management of email and attending meetings as the biggest consumers of staff time. These points probably deserve more time and space than I’m giving them here, but the underlying issues here are (a) deciding what is important and (b) having some control of, or input to, meeting agendas.

Lack of support from the top

Bottom-up initiatives will fail to take hold unless there is some support from senior managers and directors. Collaboration initiatives need to be aligned with business or service goals.

Sceptical middle management

What I call the “marzipan layer”. You may have support from the top (the icing), and bottom-up encouragement (the cake). But middle management is more likely to understand the detailed processes that provide the foundations for how the organisation operates. They will be potentially risk-averse, since any change may have unpredictable consequences, and for which they may be accountable.

No tools/poor tools/too many tools

To be effective, collaboration has to be made simple. Intuitive tools accelerate user acceptance and can maximise the outcomes. However, tools need to be relevant and optimised to the task(s) to be completed. Too many choices result in cognitive dissonance (confusion on what to use for each task). No tools – no comment!

Inadequate education/support strategies

Collaboration needs to be recognised as a key workplace skill, and included in personal learning & development plans.  It’s not something that can be taught in a pedagogical sense, but can be encouraged through coaching and mentoring.

Information overload

Usually associated with management of email. Not the best environment for collaboration, or finding what is relevant from the torrent that hits your email inbox each day. Requires discipline on what is shared – does everyone need to know this snippet of information?

Micromanagement

Once assigned a task or objective by a manager, most knowledge workers will just want to get on with it, with a degree of autonomy on how they go about it.  Some managers or supervisors feel the need to oversee every small detail, which discourages initiative and dis-incentivises the worker.

Dissonance

It happens when bosses tell people they want everyone to collaborate. But at the same time, they assign tasks, targets and goals to various individuals and teams. Agendas that vary greatly and can range from complementary to conflicting.

Too-Rigid job descriptions

Tightly written and prescriptive job descriptions will that create real or perceived boundaries that inhibit initiatives and taking on new responsibilities.

Language

Collaboration is always going to be difficult if the parties cannot make themselves understood.

Culture

Not every culture is open and transparent. Need to be aware of rules and protocols that define collaboration with other cultures.

Geography

The layout of your workplace can help or hurt collaboration. The greater the distance between colleagues, the greater the chance of flawed communication.

Not just over-reliance on e-mail when face-to-face conversation is needed, but genuine “out of sight, out of mind” lapses that keep smart people out of the brainstorming, decision making or socialising that leads to positive outcomes.

Fear of rejection

You have something to contribute, but previous experience leads you to believe that your opinion is not valued. Typically seen in hierarchical networks.

Legal, Compliance, Security

It’s not always possible, or even desirable to have open and transparent discussion. Closed groups or communities can be used in some circumstances, but we have to accept that sometimes wider collaboration is not possible.

Digital Divide

Hopefully less of an issue than it used to be, but there is no doubt that anyone not able to connect to the Internet is likely to be at a disadvantage for knowledge and information sharing.

Collaboration Motivators (Incentives and Rewards)

Speaking personally, incentives and rewards have never made any difference to me in terms of making me want to collaborate more than I do at present. But there is evidence that incentives do work for some (albeit artificial) scenarios, such as Macon Money.  This “serious game” explored how diverse people within a community could be brought together using real-world incentives (in this case, players holding half of a “play bond” tried to find the local citizen bearing the other half, then turned in their play money for real cash).

It’s clear that gaming concepts can draw people into taking interest and becoming part of something bigger than themselves, e.g. earning badges in FourSquare. But we’re also starting to see game technology being used in enterprise collaboration solutions, such as the Jive Gamification Module.

I was hoping to collect some hard evidence of how incentives and rewards might be influencing collaborative behaviours by posting this question on Quora:

Is there any evidence that rewards and incentives improve team-working and collaboration?

There has been little response, but whether this is because there is little or no evidence, or because the question didn’t really excite the community I’m not sure.

So for me, the jury is still out on this one, at least until I see some better evidence than in the Macon Money example mentioned previously.

The ART of collaboration

Admittedly I haven’t read every book, white paper or blog that purports to reveal the secrets of good collaborative behaviour. However, I have done sufficient research to realise that this is a very complex topic. I must admit that I’ve not been wholly convinced by what I have read, heard or seen and I don’t think anyone has really identified the key characteristics of good collaborator. So I’ve fallen back on my own experience (over many more years than I care to mention), and identified the characteristics that I think are most important for online collaboration.

1. Authenticity

This is not just ‘identity’, in terms of an on-line profile. It means, “are you who you say you are”? Are you truthful, genuine and sincere? Do you provide relevant attributions to your sources? Do you cite the origins of your content? Are you indeed a human being? Not to be confused with a Bot or a clever Artificial Intelligence application (don’t laugh even experts can be fooled. See the Turing Test).

2. Recognition (or Reward)

One thing that academics do appear to agree on is that a key influencer for good collaborative behaviour is recognition or reward. This does not have to be monetary reward, or gaining power and influence though promotion. In many cases it is simply being recognised as someone who has demonstrated knowledge or expertise on a particular topic. For the truly networked individual, to be acknowledged as an “expert” by your peers carries far more weight than some transient, short-term financial reward. I would go so far as to argue that collaborative behaviour that is driven mostly or entirely by financial reward will only be very superficial and is not sustainable in the long term.

3. Trust

To my mind, the most important characteristic, and the most ephemeral, since it’s not something that can be easily measured or evaluated. Trust relies on believing that a person will behave reasonably and will do what he or she says.

We establish trust with the people we engage with by the way we behave and how they reciprocate. Feelings of empathy with another person may also play a part. Establishing trust with people in an online network is more difficult than for face-to-face encounters, where we can tap into emotional signals and evaluate body language. However, trust, once established, can be just as strong for on-line engagement as it is for real-life. In fact, there are many people in my on-line networks that I’ve never met; yet I trust them more than some of the people I meet from day to day.

4. Passion

Enthusiasm, commitment, devotion to a cause or belief – all of these define ‘passion’. These are strong, emotional characteristics that provide the motivation for collaboration.  Having passion for something (or someone?) gives a meaning to our actions and, in the context of collaboration, connects the authenticity, recognition and trust characteristics. Long before there were social networks, hobbyists would gather to share their passion, whether it is photography, model making, knitting or gardening.  Such clubs and organisations are founded on the principles of sharing of ideas and techniques to support learning and improvement.  But the other (and arguably more significant) factor is that members of these gatherings also crave recognition for something they have achieved. This is not dissimilar to the recognition we wish to achieve through online collaboration, where knowledge or expertise can be recognised by our peers.

The diagram below shows how all of these characteristics combine together to form what I believe is the ideal model for collaborative behaviour. My only surprise from the research I undertook for this topic (admittedly not exhaustive) was how few references there were to “Trust”, and no references at all to “Authenticity”. Two of my key characteristics. However, we all seem to agree on ‘Recognition” as one of the fundamental characteristics.

ART of Collaboration

To conclude: I’ve emphasised the acronym ART in this post and in the diagram above because I do feel that effective collaboration is an “art” in the true sense of the word, i.e. a skill that is learnt through practice. I wonder….are you practising this ART enough?

Useful References.

Collaborative behaviours

View more presentations from Collabor8now Ltd
Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

9 Facts Every Creative Needs to Know About Collaborative Teams

See on Scoop.itThe Social Web

The mere presence of other people can boost your performance, and 8 other research-backed findings about collaboration and teamwork.

Stephen Dale‘s insight:

A useful list of evidence-based attributes associated with effective team collaboration.

1. The mere presence of other people can boost your performance.

2. A familiar team has benefits like a home stadium.

3. Virtual teams can outperform face-to-face teams.

4. A balance of extroverts and introverts makes for a better team.

5. Most good teams have one analytic thinker on board.

6. Teams perform better when they include both men and women.

7. There’s a danger of teams splitting into sub-groups.

8. Effective teams depend on “social sensitivity.”

9. The best teams communicate outside of formal meetings.

Are there more?

See on 99u.com

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

The Evolution Of Social Media

EvolutionThere has been a lot of hype around social media, social networks and social business, much of it unhelpful in getting real understanding what this is all about. For some people, “social” will always mean frivolity and time wasting. For others, social media just means marketing and communications.  Predating all of this hype, social learning networks and communities of practice have long existed as ecologies that would encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Off-line knowledge sharing communities have been around since the Middle Ages, where crafts and skills were honed, and perhaps best exemplified by the many Worshipful Companies – from bakers to candle-stick makers!

What has happened over the past several years is that social technology has made it easier than ever before to find, connect and engage with “experts” and people with similar interests. This trend was encouraged by Andrew McAfee in 2006 who coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” to describe how the strategic integration of social technologies into an enterprise’s intranet, extranet and business processes could improve decision making. This has given new life to learning, sharing and personal development. Enlightened organisations have recognised that investment in social technology and (most importantly) the organisational development that must accompany it in order to nurture and embed a collaborative culture, can overcome the limitations of silo’d structures that inhibit information flows and opportunities for innovation.  However, it’s still unfortunate that in many cases social media platforms are seen as technology projects and not as part of a wider and more embracing strategic organisational development project. It’s only when poor adoption rates become apparent that organisations begin to focus on behaviours, education and training

Put simply, we’re all still on the learning curve on how to build and sustain a truly collaborative culture, and must be continually reminded that technology is an enabler and not the solution. The paradox is that most collaboration projects are still IT-led and any involvement from HR or knowledge/information professionals is at best incidental.

In a broader context, the pervasive and ubiquitous availability of social media in almost all aspects of daily life, from the way we communicate, get information, buy and sell, travel, live and learn is adding to the pressure on organisations to provide a more porous interface between internal (behind the firewall) and external services. Knowledge workers are increasingly making their own decisions on what tools, products and services that they need to work more effectively and will become increasingly disaffected if these are not available within the work environment.  We’re already at the point where mobile platforms (smartphones, laptops, tablets) are outstripping sales of traditional desktops, and workers who can’t access social networks such as Twitter or Facebook on their office PC are just as likely to use their Smartphone to get access.  Some organisations are adapting to this challenge and embracing more mobile and agile working strategies by implementing ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) projects, with all of the security implications this entails.

What I’m hoping for in 2013:

  1. Organisations start to think about what problems they are trying to solve before implementing a technology “solution”.
  2. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are recognised as skills to be learnt and behaviours to be encouraged as part of a wider organisation development plan, rather than as a nebulous outcome on the back of an IT project.
  3. Organisations listen more to what tools their staff need to do their jobs, rather than assume that one-size-fits-all.
  4. Organisations embrace the benefits of more agile working and accept that not everyone needs to be in the office all of the time.

Well….I can hope!

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

Social Collaboration: it’s the people not the technology, stupid!

Regardless of what labels we give to collaboration technology, the one constant feature is the people, i.e. the staff, the workers, the users. The continuing paradox is that, despite all the evidence of poor adoption rates; the accepted wisdom that “build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, and the oft’ repeated mantra that “it’s not the technology, it’s the people that count”, most collaboration strategies are treated as technology projects and not organisational change management projects.

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

The workers production lineI was recently reflecting on my personal experience as a knowledge management consultant in deploying enterprise and business collaborations solutions over the past several years. I’ve seen various buzz-words and labels come and go, and witnessed the morphing of Enterprise Content, Document and Records Management Systems (ECM’s, EDM’s, ERM’s) into varieties of Enterprise 2.0, social CRM, Social Intranets and – more recently – Enterprise Social Media and Social Business solutions.

But regardless of what labels we give to the technology, the one constant feature is the people, i.e. the staff, the workers, the users. The continuing paradox is that, despite all the evidence of poor adoption rates; the accepted wisdom that “build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, and the oft’ repeated mantra that “it’s not the technology, it’s the people that count”, most collaboration strategies are treated as technology projects and not organisational development (OD) projects.  Putting in a shiny new enterprise collaboration system is unlikely to change behaviours that have been conditioned by corporate culture, and less likely to be successful if it’s not integrated with the business processes – and yes, that includes email! Becoming “social” and sharing knowledge is not something that is solved by technology; it’s something that is solved by addressing behaviours. Sure, technology can be an enabler, but it has to be part of a wider and more holistic change programme.

This was certainly the case when I was asked to deliver a strategy for more effective learning and sharing across local government in 2005, which resulted in the delivery of an award-winning community of practice platform that ultimately supported over 120,000 users and more than 1000 communities by 2011. The technology was only one (fairly small) component of the project. Most of the effort went into winning hearts and minds in local authorities that this was the right thing to do, and encouraging staff to narrate their work and share good practice. It was also underpinned by training, coaching and mentoring on how to manage and facilitate on-line communities – activities that don’t often feature in technology-driven projects.

So, with the benefit of some hindsight and experience, coupled with a more contemporary view of emerging trends, the following sums up what I think are the key factors in the emergent social collaboration ecosystem:

  1. Collaboration is about people and behaviours; technology is an enabler, not a solution.
  2. Engagement with and adoption of social collaboration technologies should be part of a wider organisational change programme. HR should be as much involved as IT.
  3. Seek out, support and encourage your ‘network weavers’ and collaboration advocates as part of your social collaboration strategy. Every organisation has them but, dependent on culture, they may be considered disruptive (but social technology is, by its very nature, disruptive). These are your “Trojan mice” who will stimulate those parts of the organisation that you can’t reach.
  4. Knowledge repositories are places where knowledge goes to die. They may still be relevant to researchers but are places of last resort for knowledge workers. Knowledge workers want instant access to expertise, information and knowledge, and increasingly rely on social networks and search engines to find it.
  5. It’s never been easier to connect with people with same/similar interests, or to find answers from “experts”. Anyone who is not yet fully engaged with the social web is at a distinct disadvantage.
  6. ‘Buy’ is trumping ‘build’, but systems integrators are key. Collaboration technology is increasingly powerful and flexible and can be adapted to all but the most specialised needs. However, integration with legacy systems and business processes still requires specialist knowledge.
  7. There is a growing call for products and services that help us manage the information torrent. All of the leading collaboration technology vendors now provide aggregation, filtering, trending, and personalisation capabilities. Look for features available in web products/services such as Bottlenose, Strawberryj.am, Prismatic, Twylah etc. in Enterprise solutions.
  8. There’s no such thing as privacy on the web – get over it!
  9. The web has been with us for almost 20 years, social media and social networks for over 10 years. Any workers (managers, supervisors, staff) who still claim to be digital technophobes in 2012 are a lost cause. Focus effort on those who see the benefits of on-line interaction.
  10. The future is mobile and ‘appified’. More and more work is being done on the move; the growth of BYOD and COPE initiatives are weakening the ties and dependencies on the ‘lobotomised’ corporate PC in the corporate workplace. Any enterprise collaboration solution must support agile and mobile working.

If I were a CEO deploying a social collaboration strategy, I would be looking for something far more expansive than a technology solution.  The 80:20 rule would seem to be appropriate; if the technology accounts for 20% of budget, 80% should be devoted to organisational development. I wonder how many more failed collaboration projects it will take before this philosophy takes hold?

What do you think?

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

The ART of Collaboration (2)

Collaboration is at the heart of social networking and the bedrock for effective knowledge sharing. More and more organisations have recognised that encouraging collaboration between staff, stakeholders and customers will enable co-design, co-production and opportunities for innovation to emerge.

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

There is a desire to develop more effective knowledge sharing and a culture of collaboration in most organisations, but little recognition of what this means in terms of staff development and overcoming barriers to change. The enormous growth of social media tools and social/professional networks over the past few years has created new opportunities and new challenges for people and organisations that want to embrace this dynamic world of social interaction and fluid knowledge flows. However, It is not widely recognised that collaboration and knowledge sharing are skills and practices that rarely get taught. It’s something we may learn on the job in a hit or miss fashion. Some people are natural at it. Others struggle to understand it.

I’ve previously blogged on this topic, but I wanted to focus specifically on this thing we call “collaboration” in this post. First of all, what do we mean by “collaboration”. Here’s a definition:

Collaboration is when individuals or groups work together, combining their strengths and negating weaknesses to accomplish a set of goals

I think the important point about this definition is that the outcomes are more likely to be amplified when working together as opposed to individually.

Collaboration is at the heart of social networking and the bedrock for effective knowledge sharing. More and more organisations have recognised that encouraging collaboration between staff, stakeholders and customers will enable co-design, co-production and opportunities for innovation to emerge.

So what are the attributes of a good collaborator?

1. Authenticity

This is not just ‘identity’, in terms of an on-line profile. It means, “are you who you say you are”? Are you truthful, genuine and sincere? Do you provide relevant attributions to your sources? Do you cite the origins of your content? Are you indeed a human being? Not to be confused with a Bot or a clever Artificial Intelligence application (don’t laugh even experts can be fooled. See the Turing Test).

2. Recognition (or Reward)

One thing that academics do appear to agree on is that a key influencer for good collaborative behaviour is recognition or reward. This does not have to be monetary reward, or gaining power and influence though promotion. In many cases it is simply being recognised as someone who has demonstrated knowledge or expertise on a particular topic. For the truly networked individual, to be acknowledged as an “expert” by your peers carries far more weight than some transient, short-term financial reward. I would go so far as to argue that collaborative behaviour that is driven mostly or entirely by financial reward will only be very superficial and is not sustainable in the long term.

3. Trust

To my mind, the most important characteristic, and the most ephemeral, since it’s not something that can be easily measured or evaluated. Trust relies on believing that a person will behave reasonably and will do what he or she says.

We establish trust with the people we engage with by the way we behave and how they reciprocate. Feelings of empathy with another person may also play a part. Establishing trust with people in an online network is more difficult than for face-to-face encounters, where we can tap into emotional signals and evaluate body language. However, trust, once established, can be just as strong for on-line engagement as it is for real-life. In fact, there are many people in my on-line networks that I’ve never met; yet I trust them more than some of the people I meet from day to day.

4. Passion

Enthusiasm, commitment, devotion to a cause or belief – all of these define ‘passion’. These are strong, emotional characteristics that provide the motivation for collaboration.  Having passion for something (or someone?) gives a meaning to our actions and, in the context of collaboration, connects the authenticity, recognition and trust characteristics. Long before there were social networks, hobbyists would gather to share their passion, whether it is photography, model making, knitting or gardening.  Such clubs and organisations are founded on the principles of sharing of ideas and techniques to support learning and improvement.  But the other (and arguably more significant) factor is that members of these gatherings also crave recognition for something they have achieved. This is not dissimilar to the recognition we wish to achieve through online collaboration, where knowledge or expertise can be recognised by our peers.

The diagram below shows how all of these characteristics combine together to form what I believe is the ideal model for collaborative behaviour. My only surprise from the research I undertook for this topic (admittedly not exhaustive) was how few references there were to “Trust”, and no references at all to “Authenticity”. Two of my key characteristics. However, most pundits seem to agree on ‘Recognition” as one of the fundamental characteristics.

ART of Collaboration

I’ve emphasised the acronym ART in this post and in the diagram above because I do feel that effective collaboration is an “art” in the true sense of the word, i.e. a skill that is learnt through practice. I wonder….are you practising this ART enough?

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

The ART Of Collaboration (Collaborative Behaviours)

If people are given the right tools and the right environment, will they spontaneously collaborate and share knowledge? Why do some people find it difficult to share and collaborate? Would incentives and rewards make a difference? This post explores answers to these and other questions about Collaborative Behaviours.

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

I was recently asked to present at the Knowledge and Innovation Network (KIN) summer workshop on the topic of “Collaborative Behaviours”. The slides I used have been posted to Slideshare and embedded at the end of this blog post. This post is a summary of the key points I made during my session.

Preamble

“Knowledge can only be volunteered, it can’t be conscripted”. A quote from the redoubtable Dave Snowden. But is the same true for collaboration? If people are given the right tools and the right environment, will they spontaneously collaborate and share knowledge? Why do some people find it difficult to share and collaborate? Would incentives and rewards make a difference?

What is “collaboration”?

According to dictionary definitions, collaboration means:

  1. The act of working with another or others on a joint project
  2. Something created by working jointly with another or others
  3. The act of cooperating as a traitor, especially with an enemy occupying one’s own country.

I think we can discount point 3 from this discussion, but it is worth testing all three of these definitions with the behaviours described later in this blog post to determine whether there are consistent characteristics that can be applied to all three.

For the purpose of having one single, all-embracing definition, I prefer to use the following:

Collaboration is when individuals or groups work together, combining their strengths and negating weaknesses to accomplish a set of goals.

I think the important point about this definition is that the outcomes are more likely to be amplified when working together as opposed to individually.

Types of Collaboration

It might help our comprehension about what we mean by “collaboration” by looking at various collaborative models.

Peer to Peer Production

Not to be confused with P2P file sharing, such as BitTorrent. P2P production is defined as “any coordinated, (chiefly) internet-based effort whereby volunteers contribute project components, and there exists some process to combine them to produce a unified intellectual work”. Source: Wikipedia.

The process is one-step, meaning the user accesses some or part of an original file from a P2P community website, modifies or enhances the file in some way, and then submits the modified file back into the community.

Probably the best-known examples of peer-to-peer production networks are the Apache Foundation Network and the Linux network (8000 developers from 800 countries). Other collaborative networks include ccMixter, a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music and Remix The Video, and Scratch, for creating interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art for sharing on the web.

As part of my research for this presentation I attended a lecture at City University London, given by Dr Stephen Clulow, who described the motivators for peer-to-peer collaboration as:

  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness (knowing what you are doing is appreciated by others).

I’ll come back to motivators later in this post.

The Digital Workplace

Collaboration in the workplace is now high on the priority list of many organisations seeking to leverage social technologies to free-up knowledge and provide opportunities for co-creation, co-production and innovation.

I particularly liked this diagram and explanation from Jane McConnell at Net Strategy (reproduced below):

Digital Workplace

Source: http://netjmc.com/digital-workplace/digital-workplace-in-brief-5-fundamentals

  • The managed dimension includes business applications and validated, authoritative, reference content. It is primarily internal but extends partially into the client-partner sphere for inter-enterprise projects and processes.
  • The structured collaborative dimension involves teamwork on projects with specific goals, deliverables and timelines. It overlaps with both social collaboration and the managed dimension.
  • The social collaborative dimension is self-organizing. It includes social networking, micro blogging, community building and other social features such as user-generated content. This dimension stretches the furthest into the public world and is deliberately drawn off the chart because it is the biggest unknown today and triggers the most apprehension in management.

David Gauntlet has defined the motivators for collaboration in the digital workplace in his book “Making Is Connecting” as:

  • Pleasure
  • To feel an active participation
  • A wish to be recognised.

I’ll come back to motivators later in this post.

Barriers to collaboration

Understanding the barriers and obstacles is the first step to identifying potential solutions. Individuals acting alone may not be empowered to make the desired changes, but if there is a real desire to collaborate and share knowledge, most if not all of these obstacles can be overcome or circumvented.

In no particular order:

Knowledge is power

Knowledge and information hoarders exist in every organisation. However, their knowledge is likely to be one-dimensional and limited to their own small network. This can’t compare to the wealth of knowledge in social networks. A case of “none of us is smarter than all of us”.

Fear of change

There is no doubting that we live in far more uncertain times, where change and complexity is all around us. Holding back change is a bit like King Canute – with same outcome!

Can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Some people will never change. Accept it and move on.

Command and control

We don’t collaborate because there’s a real or perceived hierarchy in the workplace. Over the years, the leadership has developed a culture that appears to value one person or group over another.

WIIFM

What’s in it for me? It’s reasonable to seek value in what you do; otherwise you’ll consider your actions as being a waste of time.

Lack of time

The research report “Why Businesses Don’t Collaborate” cites the management of email and attending meetings as the biggest consumers of staff time. These points probably deserve more time and space than I’m giving them here, but the underlying issues here are (a) deciding what is important and (b) having some control of, or input to, meeting agendas.

Lack of support from the top

Bottom-up initiatives will fail to take hold unless there is some support from senior managers and directors. Collaboration initiatives need to be aligned with business or service goals.

Sceptical middle management

What I call the “marzipan layer”. You may have support from the top (the icing), and bottom-up encouragement (the cake). But middle management is more likely to understand the detailed processes that provide the foundations for how the organisation operates. They will be potentially risk-averse, since any change may have unpredictable consequences, and for which they may be accountable.

No tools/poor tools/too many tools

To be effective, collaboration has to be made simple. Intuitive tools accelerate user acceptance and can maximise the outcomes. However, tools need to be relevant and optimised to the task(s) to be completed. Too many choices result in cognitive dissonance (confusion on what to use for each task). No tools – no comment!

Inadequate education/support strategies

Collaboration needs to be recognised as a key workplace skill, and included in personal learning & development plans.  It’s not something that can be taught in a pedagogical sense, but can be encouraged through coaching and mentoring.

Information overload

Usually associated with management of email. Not the best environment for collaboration, or finding what is relevant from the torrent that hits your email inbox each day. Requires discipline on what is shared – does everyone need to know this snippet of information?

Micromanagement

Once assigned a task or objective by a manager, most knowledge workers will just want to get on with it, with a degree of autonomy on how they go about it.  Some managers or supervisors feel the need to oversee every small detail, which discourages initiative and dis-incentivises the worker.

Dissonance

It happens when bosses tell people they want everyone to collaborate. But at the same time, they assign tasks, targets and goals to various individuals and teams. Agendas that vary greatly and can range from complementary to conflicting.

Too-Rigid job descriptions

Tightly written and prescriptive job descriptions will that create real or perceived boundaries that inhibit initiatives and taking on new responsibilities.

Language

Collaboration is always going to be difficult if the parties cannot make themselves understood.

Culture

Not every culture is open and transparent. Need to be aware of rules and protocols that define collaboration with other cultures.

Geography

The layout of your workplace can help or hurt collaboration. The greater the distance between colleagues, the greater the chance of flawed communication.

Not just over-reliance on e-mail when face-to-face conversation is needed, but genuine “out of sight, out of mind” lapses that keep smart people out of the brainstorming, decision making or socialising that leads to positive outcomes.

Fear of rejection

You have something to contribute, but previous experience leads you to believe that your opinion is not valued. Typically seen in hierarchical networks.

Legal, Compliance, Security

It’s not always possible, or even desirable to have open and transparent discussion. Closed groups or communities can be used in some circumstances, but we have to accept that sometimes wider collaboration is not possible.

Digital Divide

Hopefully less of an issue than it used to be, but there is no doubt that anyone not able to connect to the Internet is likely to be at a disadvantage for knowledge and information sharing.

Incentives and Rewards

Speaking personally, incentives and rewards have never made any difference to me in terms of making me want to collaborate more than I do at present. But there is evidence that incentives do work for some (albeit artificial) scenarios, such as Macon Money.  This “serious game” explored how diverse people within a community could be brought together using real-world incentives (in this case, players holding half of a “play bond” tried to find the local citizen bearing the other half, then turned in their play money for real cash).

It’s clear that gaming concepts can draw people into taking interest and becoming part of something bigger than themselves, e.g. earning badges in FourSquare. But we’re also starting to see game technology being used in serious professional networks, as in the recent release of the Jive Gamification Module.

I was hoping to collect some hard evidence of how incentives and rewards might be influencing collaborative behaviours by posting this question on Quora:

Is there any evidence that rewards and incentives improve team-working and collaboration?

There has been little response, but whether this is because there is little or no evidence, or because the question didn’t really excite the community I’m not sure.

So for me, the jury is still out on this one, at least until I see some better evidence than in the Macon Money example mentioned previously.

The ART of collaboration

Admittedly I haven’t read every book, white paper or blog that purports to reveal the secrets of good collaborative behaviour. However, I have done sufficient research to realise that this is a very complex topic. I must admit that I’ve not been wholly convinced by what I have read, heard or seen and I don’t think anyone has really identified the key characteristics of good collaborator. So I’ve fallen back on my own experience (over many more years than I care to mention), and identified the characteristics that I think are most important for online collaboration.

1. Authenticity

This is not just ‘identity’, in terms of an on-line profile. It means, “are you who you say you are”? Are you truthful, genuine and sincere? Do you provide relevant attributions to your sources? Do you cite the origins of your content? Are you indeed a human being? Not to be confused with a Bot or a clever Artificial Intelligence application (don’t laugh even experts can be fooled. See the Turing Test).

2. Recognition (or Reward)

One thing that academics do appear to agree on is that a key influencer for good collaborative behaviour is recognition or reward. This does not have to be monetary reward, or gaining power and influence though promotion. In many cases it is simply being recognised as someone who has demonstrated knowledge or expertise on a particular topic. For the truly networked individual, to be acknowledged as an “expert” by your peers carries far more weight than some transient, short-term financial reward. I would go so far as to argue that collaborative behaviour that is driven mostly or entirely by financial reward will only be very superficial and is not sustainable in the long term.

3. Trust

To my mind, the most important characteristic, and the most ephemeral, since it’s not something that can be easily measured or evaluated. Trust relies on believing that a person will behave reasonably and will do what he or she says.

We establish trust with the people we engage with by the way we behave and how they reciprocate. Feelings of empathy with another person may also play a part. Establishing trust with people in an online network is more difficult than for face-to-face encounters, where we can tap into emotional signals and evaluate body language. However, trust, once established, can be just as strong for on-line engagement as it is for real-life. In fact, there are many people in my on-line networks that I’ve never met; yet I trust them more than some of the people I meet from day to day.

4. Passion

Enthusiasm, commitment, devotion to a cause or belief – all of these define ‘passion’. These are strong, emotional characteristics that provide the motivation for collaboration.  Having passion for something (or someone?) gives a meaning to our actions and, in the context of collaboration, connects the authenticity, recognition and trust characteristics. Long before there were social networks, hobbyists would gather to share their passion, whether it is photography, model making, knitting or gardening.  Such clubs and organisations are founded on the principles of sharing of ideas and techniques to support learning and improvement.  But the other (and arguably more significant) factor is that members of these gatherings also crave recognition for something they have achieved. This is not dissimilar to the recognition we wish to achieve through online collaboration, where knowledge or expertise can be recognised by our peers.

The diagram below shows how all of these characteristics combine together to form what I believe is the ideal model for collaborative behaviour. My only surprise from the research I undertook for this topic (admittedly not exhaustive) was how few references there were to “Trust”, and no references at all to “Authenticity”. Two of my key characteristics. However, we all seem to agree on ‘Recognition” as one of the fundamental characteristics.

ART of Collaboration

To conclude: I’ve emphasised the acronym ART in this post and in the diagram above because I do feel that effective collaboration is an “art” in the true sense of the word, i.e. a skill that is learnt through practice. I wonder….are you practising this ART enough?

Useful References.

Collaborative behaviours

View more presentations from Collabor8now Ltd
Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

Overcoming Barriers to Workplace Collaboration

Organisations rely on collaboration in order to be successful. Imagine your workplace without any knowledge-sharing or team working. What would happen? Probably very little, as most people rely on collaboration with others in order to be able to do their jobs. If every member of your team attempted to work without drawing on the knowledge of others, they would find themselves unable to do anything pretty quickly. Despite this heavy reliance on collaboration, many people find it difficult, and do it only reluctantly and sometimes ineffectively. How can workplace leaders help their teams to collaborate better?

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

Collaboration

Organisations rely on collaboration in order to be successful. Imagine your workplace without any knowledge-sharing or team working. What would happen? Probably very little, as most people rely on collaboration with others in order to be able to do their jobs. If every member of your team attempted to work without drawing on the knowledge of others, they would find themselves unable to do anything pretty quickly. Despite this heavy reliance on collaboration, many people find it difficult, and do it only reluctantly and sometimes ineffectively. How can workplace leaders help their teams to collaborate better?

Why People Don’t Collaborate

We live in a very individualist culture. Throughout our lives, we are encouraged to work towards personal goals, and to put our own needs before those of our community. It is therefore not surprising that many workplaces also encourage individualism. When we plan our careers, we do so as individuals. When we take a job, we are given a job description with a list of tasks that are assigned to us alone. Many job descriptions do include something on them about teamwork and collaboration, but it often usually couched in general terms and found towards the bottom of the list.

Individualism can be a very positive thing. It can help people achieve, particularly in jobs that are relatively solitary. For individualism to be positive, though, it needs to be supported by a culture of collaboration. This may seem more relevant in some businesses than others. Take a courier company like ParcelForce, for example. They rely heavily on collaborative working at each of the stages it takes to get a parcel from the Post Office, to depot, to delivery van, to the recipient. There is a long chain in which the success of each stage depends on the success of the previous stage. In another company, workers’ tasks might be much more discrete: take a proofreading business, for example: each worker has assigned tasks that they do alone, without the help of others.

Those who work in businesses that do not rely obviously on collaboration sometimes fail to recognise its value. Competitive workplace cultures can discourage collaboration, as team members are worried that it will mean their efforts are not recognised. Where team members lack trust in each other, collaboration suffers. People often feel they lack the time to collaborate, that it is just ‘one more thing’ on their to-do list. Workplace leaders sometimes fail to collaborate themselves, and so they fail to encourage a collaboration culture.

Encouraging Collaboration

Competition and lack of shared goals are barriers to collaboration. Mutual trust and shared goals help encourage it. Research shows that collaboration and co-operation in the workplace helps strengthen the business. It encourages innovation and helps the business meet its goals. Collaboration isn’t just a nice thing to do: it helps keep a business in profit. Sharing knowledge and ideas helps individuals to work better and more successfully. A collaborative workplace is greater than the sum of its parts.

Getting people to trust and believe in each other requires a change in culture. Easy to say, not so easy to do. Things like workplace social events and awaydays can help, but they need to be backed up by something more tangible. Use of social media in the workplace can be a great way to encourage collaboration. Because it works from the bottom up, rather than being imposed from the top down, social media helps create a shared body of knowledge that is open to all and that everyone can feel comfortable using. It helps encourage trust and understanding, as everyone can see the contributions made by everyone else. Rather than asking one individual to help with a question or task, a team member can log on to social media and get advice and help from various people, many of whom they might not have considered contacting. It can help encourage collaboration between seemingly unconnected areas of the business: improvements in the accounts system inspire project managers across the organisation, for example.

Leaders need to lead by example and work to encourage and reward collaboration across their organisations. Rather than only valuing individual achievement, team and organisational achievement should be valued. Some people will always feel more comfortable collaborating than others (either because of their personality or the nature of their job), but using social media or other media to demonstrate business benefits and show leadership can help encourage everyone to collaborate better.

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

The Business Of Collaboration

Some Background

The last few years can be described as the age of social business and collaboration. The demands and expectations of today’s knowledge workers have been shaped by the plethora of social networks and social media tools. Communicating and sharing information has never been easier.  Staying connected with news and status updates from friends, family, or at work is real-time and no longer constrained to an office PC.  This has coincided with the business realisation that a greater degree of interaction with customers, whether consumers or businesses, makes for a higher degree of customer retention.

Ironically, in many cases, workplace policy and technology constraints have meant that staff resorts to using the technology they have brought with them in their pockets or handbags in order to remain connected with their networks.  The ubiquity of mobile devices and ease of use of many web services means that almost anyone can originate or contribute to digital content, and information is increasingly consumed on the move. Recent analysis from Nielson shows that we spend 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites per month, or 22 per cent of all time is spent on-line. And the expectation now is that the tools that people use at work should be as easy and fun to use as the ones they use in their personal life.

But is this tsunami of data and information making us all better informed? How do we overcome information overload and ensure the relevance and utility of the information we consume? Can we provide environments that tap into the collective intelligence of groups or knowledge domains that match our specific needs?

And so the scene was set for the “Business of Collaboration” event hosted by PFI Knowledge Solutions (PFIKS) on 8th November 2011. PFIKS are one of the leading vendors of  “Enterprise Social Software” systems with their open sources, open standards Intelligus platform.

What is Enterprise Social Software?

Enterprise Social Software (ESS) is the next generation of platforms that are built to manage high volumes of collaborative engagement and conversations among distributed teams, project groups or communities of practice. They build on the conceptual ideas of popular social networking platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, but with a host of enterprise-ready features to make them secure, private, collaborative and business integration-friendly.

As many organisations have discovered, implementing a technology solution by itself rarely results in more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.  Sustainable implementation of ESS requires:

1. Understanding of how and why successful knowledge-sharing communities and networks perform.

2. A system that implicitly acknowledges the constraints (time, process) and motivations (reciprocity, reward) that individuals experience within such networks.

3. A blended approach where technology seamlessly supports the behavioural characteristics that will encourage users to self-organize, collaborate and co-create.

But what about the investment in ICT systems that organisations have made over the past decade?

The good news is that it’s not a matter of ripping out legacy systems, but extending what you have, adding new capabilities and integrating new applications and services.

Delegates at the event included representatives from private and public sectors, large organisations and SME’s, all with a common purpose: to get a better understanding of this “social business ecosystem” and how the blend of technology, people and processes can be effectively combined to support more fluid knowledge flows, drive collaboration initiatives and open up opportunities for innovation.

One of the delegates, David Wilcox, Social Reporter working with the Big Lottery Fund posted this excellent blog about the event.

All of the slide presentations from the event are available from the Intelligus website, including my own. However, I wanted to elaborate on some of the points I made in my  presentation. Hopefully you can follow these points with reference to the embedded slide presentation below, or from Slideshare.

The Presentation

Slides 1-4

What is the question that connects the images?

Collaboration pre-supposes that we have someone to collaborate with – in this example the person on the other side of the seesaw. The seesaw will only work with the collaboration of the people involved, in this instance, the child at each end of the seesaw.

Knowledge sharing makes no assumptions about collaboration; it’s possible to share knowledge with people we don’t know, e.g. by posting something to an on-line forum, or writing a blog about something we have seen or read or experienced. We may not know who is going to read our missive, or what value they may place on it. The posting might lead to some form of collaboration with the readers/consumers, but that is not necessarily the primary purpose for knowledge sharing.

Most of us are happy to collaborate and share ideas with the people we know (i.e. the definition of “collaboration”).

Slides 5-7

But what about the huge untapped resources and expertise that we don’t know about? We may get to hear about people in this “unknown world” via recommendations or word of mouth, but how do we connect and engage with them? How can we know what we don’t know? How do we find the answers to our questions in this “unknown world”?

If nothing else, this is where the power of social networks comes to the fore. We have the tools and technology to be able to “crowd-source” our questions. Social media tools such as Twitter or Quora make it easy to post queries to a largely anonymous network of people in the hope that someone will have the answer or the appropriate knowledge and experience we are seeking. By engaging and connecting with the people that respond we can grow our personal network, often referred to as our “Social Graph”.

Better still if the system or network we have joined can suggest contacts for us, based on what it knows about us, either explicitly (our digital identity and personal profile), or implicitly (our digital footprint, i.e. our ‘likes’, the people we have connected with and the on-line places we have visited).

Slides 8 – 10 

Social networks have proliferated over the past 4 or 5 years. Some have been more successful than others. Remember that even a blog can be a form of social network, and we now have over 200 billion of these (yes, more than the population of the planet!)

New users can be intimidated by large/mature social networks which have lots of users and content, and where engagement and conversations protocols have been established.

Slides 12-13

But are we beginning to see the onset of “social network fatigue”? Each new social network adds to the internet background noise. Search engines have never really delivered on the promise of relevant information, and many of us resort to serendipitous discovery of key information and conversations – it’s a bit ad hoc, where knowledge discovery is more by accident than design.

Slide 14

So, the signal to noise ratio is pretty poor at the moment and the ever-increasing volume of information hitting the Internet is likely to make it even worse.

Slides 15-16

It’s a strange paradox that now we have the capability of easily creating new websites and blogs without the need for any programing skills, what we really want now is one place to view and interact with all of this information. A recent (September 2011) audit of LinkedIn illustrates the problem:

  • 26 Alumni groups
  • 32 Corporate groups
  • 20 Conference groups
  • 132 Networking groups
  • 16 Nonprofit groups
  • 196 Professional groups

A total of 422 groups. How do you know which group(s) to join to be sure of getting the best answer to your questions? Maybe ‘all of them’ is the answer!

(Information sourced from blogs by Nick Milton and Ian Wooler)

Slide 18

If we want relevant information to come to us, we have to

  1. tell the system something about ourselves (our digital identity and profile),
  2. enable access to the sources of information that might be useful and
  3. spend some time identifying and validating the sources we like and trust. We can’t leave everything to technology – what you get out is proportional to what you put in!

This is clearly where the likes of Facebook (groups, Timeline) and Google+ (Circles, Sparks) are heading, but neither has yet achieved a ‘simple’ way of doing it.

Slides 19-21

Most of us will be more concerned with what the information is and whether we can trust it rather than where it is. So, do we have to worry about the “where” if we can develop some form of interoperability between systems and networks? RSS/Atom feeds and tagging are only part of the answer. We need a system that can extract meaning from the data (e.g. entity extraction) that will enable ontologies to be created and terms to be categorised for faceted search and discovery.

Slides 22-24

Entity abstraction, aggregation and categorisation.  If our profile is up to date, the Enterprise Social Software system should be able to locate, aggregate and categorise the information that we would find relevant and useful by matching terms against our profile data (who we are, where we work, what we’re interested in, etc.). Precision can be further improved by monitoring our ‘digital footprint’, i.e. the knowledge/information assets that we have ‘liked’, recommended or downloaded.  If we layer on top of this the aggregated behaviour patterns of all the users, we can leverage the opportunities provided by “collective intelligence” to identify “good’ content.

Products/vendors such as Amazon do this all of the time, using explicit data (the user bought an item) and implicit (users who bought this items also looked at these items). Tracking of a user’s progress through a website is not rocket science and is a fundamental part of any web analytics software. Inject a bit of entity extraction and you start to establish the foundations of a system that can begin to ‘intelligently’ connect information with people and people with people.

Slides 25-26

‘Liking’, ‘+1’ or ‘tweeting’ not only enables sharing of information, it can be fed into ‘trending engines’ that will aggregate and categorise the crowd-sourced data to show hot topics and trends. Again, the technology is well established, but little use is made of it in many Enterprise 2.0 systems. How nice it would be if, for example, your job entailed commissioning adult social care services and you could see the trending conversations on adult social care on your Enterprise 2.0 dashboard. This feature is built into the Intelligus platform using a combination of the open source application Carrot2 and the proprietary PFIKS matching engine.

Slide 27

All of the prior discussion refers to an environment (social media, social networks) that are already in place, and for technologies, systems and applications that are currently being delivered in Intelligus and some of the other leading Enterprise Social Software systems. But what of the future? Where is all of this taking us?

Slides 29-32

I will conclude with a few words about the growing importance of ‘Apps’. With apologies to those who don’t know who Peter Kaye is and his oft-repeated reference to Garlic Bread being the future! Maybe do a quick search on YouTube and all will be revealed!

Slide 33

As usual, Dilbert is pretty much attuned to what is happening in the business world. I would argue that most organisations haven’t yet grasped the full impact of the App market, and may view this as being the exclusive domain of the on-line gamers. In fact, (IMHO) it is shaping up to be one of the most disruptive technologies to appear since the start of the social media wave.

Slide 34

The trends reinforce the view that apps are becoming ubiquitous in how we work and play. Note that all of these apps are developed for mobile devices.

Slides 35-40

As I have noted on the slide, the key attributes of an Enterprise App Store are:

  • Empowers the user for self-service
  • Easy to use conduit of software, services and data
  • Model widely understood by developers and consumers of software
  • Recognition that one size doesn’t fit all (e.g. the lobotomised corporate PC)
  • Life-cycles for apps potentially short: discarded when no longer useful/relevant
  • Enterprise App Stores will provide a trusted source of business-ready apps that can be delivered to a rapidly changing work environment.
  • The end device is less important than the application. The mantra is now “develop for mobile, but consider the PC”, and not the other way around.
Slides 41-46

Finally, and in summary, the key ‘take-aways’ from this presentation:

  1. More people suffering “Social Network Fatigue” – desire for one place to do business,
  2. Enterprise Social Software (ESS) solutions must integrate with legacy systems and business processes.
  3. ESS must add value – more fluid knowledge flows, decision support etc.
  4. Mashups and Enterprise App Stores will become increasingly important for business agility
  5. Develop for mobile, think PC, not other way around!

Of course these are just my opinions. I’m happy to receive critical comment and corrections to any incorrect assumptions or poorly constructed arguments I may have made!

 

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

Communities of Practice: a strategy for more effective collaboration

Acting as a public administrator, it was my privilege to arrange and facilitate a meeting this morning between a delegation from the Government of Singapore and some of the ‘expert’ Community of Practice Facilitators from the local government Community of Practice platform. My thanks to Etienne Wenger for making the original connections with the Singapore Government, and to Adrian Barker (Policy & Performance CoP – 3913 members), Neil Rimmer (Productivity and Efficiency Exchange CoP – 2513 members) and Michael Norton (Facilitator’s CoP – 528 members) for their input and presentations.

The delegation was from the Public Service of the 21st Century Office (PS21 Office) and was led by the Government of Singapore’s Permanent Secretary, Ms  Lim Soo Hoon. The purpose of the visit was to share knowledge about building sustainable learning and sharing networks in the public sector, and we used the learning experience gained over the past 5 years in establishing the LGID Communities of Practice platform as the largest and most successful professional network in the UK, with over 96,000 users and more than 1,500 CoPs.

During the course of what turned out to be a highly interactive session, I was reminded of so many useful lessons as to what makes a successful CoP, in terms of user engagement, establishing and sustaining a culture of sharing and trust, and building a knowledge ecology that encourages cross-organisation, cross-agency and cross-regional collaboration. Though I’ve been involved (and in all humility – I started it all off!) with the local government CoP strategy since 2005, there is no better learning experience that hearing from practitioners who have been at the sharp end in building and nurturing their communities, and having a real understanding of the skills and effort involved in facilitating a CoP.  They know what works and what doesn’t, but if there was one common denominator, it was that successful CoPs invariably have active and engaged facilitators (sometime also referred to as community managers or community moderators).

I’m not at liberty to post all of the presentations used at meeting (except my own – see below), I thought it might be useful to summarise all of the key lessons for establishing and sustaining successful CoPs, as follows:

Facilitation – what is it?

  • Facilitator’s engage and connect community members by encouraging participation, facilitating and seeding discussions, and by keeping events and community activities engaging and vibrant.
  • Guiding a group to use its knowledge, skills and potential to achieve its goals.
  • Helping by making the processes easier. It’s about guiding rather than directing.
  • Looking at the process rather than context – how you do something rather than what you do.
  • Making it easier for the group to get to their agreed destination.
  • Striking a balance between ‘the group’ and ‘the task’.

Factors influencing success:

  • Forums, blogs, events, library.  Wiki less so.
  • Good quality, active facilitation: making it useful; concise, informed, informative; and giving community members  ‘room to breathe.’
  • Day to day content; monthly update summarising key content + alerts; one-offs (e.g. on-line conferences)
  • Size – critical mass.  Confidence that someone will respond.
  • Face to face element
  • Honesty and trust (who else is listening in?)
  • Keep on topic (urgent, immediate, wide interest, range)
  • Openness, honesty, trust (who else is listening in)
  • Technology – ease of use, facilities, integrated elements (e.g. wiki draws on discussions)
  • An art.  Non-linear: results don’t automatically match your efforts.  A few small things can make a big difference.
  • Presentation at regional and local events
  • Promotion through other online channels (website pages and bulletins)
  • Links with social media channels, e.g. having a Twitter account
  • Organised regular ‘Hot’ and Warmseat’ events to stimulate interest
  • Use of regular polls to assess member opinions

Lesson Learnt:

  • You need trained and dedicated community facilitation
  • On-line events take at least as much organisational resource as traditional – but save time, money and the planet!
  • Need to constantly engage members with interesting and new content
  • Membership rises whenever we promote events – it keeps their interest fresh
  • Use social media channels for promotion for the new on-line generation
  • Lots of work needed to engage older, traditional generation.
  • We are social beings who thrive from human interaction; technology is just an enabler.
  • Don’t be over-prescriptive; give the community a range of collaborative tools and let them decide which ones they want to use and how to use them.
  • Don’t assume everyone understands how to use social media tools.
  • Identify and look after your (power) contributors.
  • Identify and look after your facilitators – they are quite often the difference between successful and unsuccessful communities.
  • Condition your managers for failure – not every CoP is going to be successful.
  • Most senior managers still don’t get it!
  • Command and control will hamper the development of a community.

So, once again – my grateful thanks to all of the contributors to this morning’s meeting, both the presenters and the members of the Singapore delegation.  I wish the PS21 Office every success in establishing their own collaboration and knowledge sharing networks, and can assure them that there is plenty of help, advice and support available from the growing global CoP environments.


Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest

Building and Nurturing On-Line Communities – Batteries Not Included

Much has been written about best practice for developing and nurturing on-line communities , such as Communities of Practice (CoP), and the accepted wisdom is that technology by itself – no matter how good – will NOT deliver vibrant and successful communities. “Build it and they won’t come”  should be the mantra, as Google Wave so amply demonstrated (and I know this was not an on-line community in its purest sense before I get flamed!).

I’ve previously tried to illustrate this using the analogy of baking a cake, where the cake’s ingredients e.g. sugar, butter, flour, eggs, milk are the component parts of an on-line community. To bake a really good cake you need all of these ingredients; missing out any one of them can result in something which either looks or tastes nothing like a cake.

cake-ingredientsSimilarly missing out one of the ingredients in an on-line community will lead to potential failure of the community. Clearly some ingredients will be key, e.g. technology is going to be pretty important if it’s an on-line community! Members/users are important because they ARE the community. But let’s not forget the other ingredients, such as the community facilitator (also variously known as the community manager, steward or moderator) the business sponsor, the subject matter experts, the mentors, the librarians etc. Some of these roles may be combined, but the functions they perform are distinct. But I want concentrate on the role and function of the community facilitator, for I would argue that this role is the difference between the success and failure of an on-line community (and especially a CoP), and I have the empirical evidence to prove it!

For any prior readers of this blog you will know I had (and still have) a key role in the development of the local government on-line community platform. Currently over 65,000 registered users and 1,300 CoPs.  Using various metrics available on the platform, I can clearly see the correlation between a successful community and the capability of the facilitator. If this role is so important to the health of the community, what skills and attributes are needed to be a successful facilitator? I’m still not entirely sure, though I do know it’s not a case of just providing some training, although this does help. It’s more about personality; enthusiasm; willingness to share; being sensitive to the community environment; and energy! Lots and lots of energy. Not the sort of things you can learn or teach using a pedagogical approach. I recall co-hosting a community facilitator’s story-telling session using the excellent Anecdote story-telling guidelines. We got ten or so of the LG Improvement and Development (previously IDeA) exemplar community facilitators together to share their experience of what worked so that we could perhaps identify some key lessons that could be shared with all the other community facilitators. One recurrent theme was how hard they worked at making the community successful.  There was nothing really unique or special that they were doing, other than putting energy and enthusiasm into their role. They believed in the goals for their community and worked at helping the community achieve them.

So, coming back to my original theme: what makes a successful on-line community? The community facilitator is the answer, and though it’s clear we need some useful technology to support an on-line environment, that alone will not deliver success. If you will excuse me for switching metaphors, an on-line community (CoP) without a good facilitator is like have having a battery-driven toy without the batteries –  and hence the title of this blog post. This concept is supported by the accompanying slides, developed for a recent IBM webinar hosted and arranged by my good friend and colleague Luis Suarez (@elsua) and available for download from Slideshare.

To conclude, a brief story about a recent response to a proposal I received from a large government body who wanted a cost effective solution to improving knowledge sharing for their dispersed staff. There was a limited budget, and I identified a fairly low-cost collaborative technology solution that was well within the available budget. However, I also included a dependency on having a community facilitator/manager to ensure the success of this nascent community. Unfortunately the cost of the community facilitator/manager was more than twice the cost of the technology, and consequently the solution was starting to look expensive and unlikely to be accepted and implemented by the client. Yes, I could have just quoted the cost of the technology and then left them to get on with it, but then again, I’m not a technology vendor and I don’t believe in perpetuating the myth that technology delivers successful on-line communities. It would have been like leaving them with a battery-driven product but not telling them that the batteries were not included!

I hope the slides are useful for anyone involved in bulding and sustaining on-line communities – and if you happen to be a community facilitator, you have my utmost respect!

Feel free to share...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInBuffer this pagePin on Pinterest