Collaboration is important. BrightPlanet‘s earlier research paper on the waste associated with enterprise document use (or lack thereof) indicated that $690 billion a year alone could be reclaimed by U.S. enterprises from better sharing of information. That represents 88% of the total $780 billion wasted annually.
The issue of poor document use within the organization is certainly not solely a technological issue, and is likely due more to cultural and people issues, not to mention process. At BrightPlanet, we have been attempting a concerted “document as you go” commitment by our developers and support people, and have worked hard to put in place Wiki and other collaboration tools to minimize friction.
But friction remains, often stubbornly so. At heart, the waste and misuse of document assets within organizations arises from a complex set of these people, process and technology issues.
Dave Pollard, the inveterate blogger on KM and other issues, provided a listing of 16 reasons of ‘Why We Don’t Share Stuff’ on September 19. That thoughtful posting received a hail storm of responses, which caused Dave to update that listing to 23 reasons on September 29 under a broader post called ‘Knowledge Sharing & Collaboration 2015′ (a later post upped that amount to 24 reasons). (BTW, my own additions below have upped this number to 40, though high listing numbers are beside the point.) This is great stuff, and nearly complete grist for laying out the reasons — some major and some minor — why collaboration is often difficult.
I have taken these reasons, plus some others I’ve added of my own or from other sources, and have attempted to cluster them into the various categories below. Granted, these assignments are arbitrary, but they are also telling as the concluding sections discuss.
People, Behavior and Psychology
These are possible reasons why collaboration fails due to people, behavior or psychological reasons. They represent the majority (56%) of reasons proferred by Pollard:
- People find it easier and more satisfying to reinvent the wheel than re-use other people’s ‘stuff’ (*)
- People only accept and internalize information that fits with their mental models and frames (Lakoff’s rule) (*)
- Some modest people underestimate the value of what they know so they don’t share (*)
- We all learn differently (some by reading, some by listening, some by writing down, some by hands-on), and people won’t internalize information that isn’t in a format attuned to how they learn (one size training doesn’t fit all) (*)
- People grasp graphic information more easily than text, and understand information conveyed through stories better than information presented analytically (we learn by analogy, and images and stories are better analogies to our real-life experiences than analyses are) (*)
- People cannot readily differentiate useful information from useless information (* split)
- Most people want friends and even strangers to succeed, and enemies to fail; this has a bearing on their information-sharing behaviour (office politics bites back) (*)
- People are averse to sharing information orally, and even more averse to sharing it in written form, if they perceive any risk of it being misused or misinterpreted (the better safe than sorry principle) (*)
- People don’t take care of shared information resources (Tragedy of the Commons again) (*)
- People seek out like minds who entrench their own thinking (leads to groupthink) (**)
- Introverts are more comfortable wasting time looking for information rather than just asking (sometimes it’s just more fun spending 5 hours on secondary research, or doing the graphics for your powerpoint deck by trial and error, than getting your assistant to do it for you in 5 minutes) (**)
- People won’t (or can’t) internalize information until they need it or recognize its value (most notably, information in e-newsletters is rarely absorbed because it rarely arrives just at the moment it’s needed) (**)
- People don’t know what others who they meet know, that they could benefit from knowing (a variant on the old “don’t know what we don’t know” — “we don’t know what we don’t know that they do”) (**)
- If important news is withheld or sugar-coated, people will ‘fill in the blanks’ with an ‘anti-story’ worse than the truth (**)
- Experts often speak in jargon or “expert speak.” They don’t know they aren’t communicating, and non-experts are afraid to ask (***).
Management and Organization
These are possible reasons why collaboration fails due to managerial or organization limits. They represent about one-fifth (20%) of the reasons proferred by Pollard:
- Bad news rarely travels upwards in organizations (shoot the messenger, and if you do tell the boss bad news, better have a plan to fix it already in motion) (*)
- People share information generously peer-to-peer, but begrudgingly upwards (“more paperwork for the boss”), and sparingly downwards (“need to know”) in organizational hierarchy — it’s all about trust (*)
- Managers are generally reluctant to admit they don’t know, or don’t understand, something (leads to oversimplifying, and rash decision-making) (*)
- Internal competition can mitigate against information sharing (if you reward individuals for outperforming peers, they won’t share what they know with peers) (*)
- The people with the most valuable knowledge have the least time to share it (**)
- Management does not generally appreciate its role in overcoming psychology and personal behaviors that limit collaboration (***)
- Management does not appreciate the trremendous expense, revenue, profitability and competiveness implications from lack of collaboration (***)
- Management does not know training, incentive, process, technology or other techniques to overcome limits to collaboration (***)
- Earlier organization attempts with CIOs, CKOs, etc., have not been sustained or were the wrong model for internalizing these needs within the organization (***)
- Organizational job titles still reinforce managerial v. expertise in status and reward (***)
- Hiring often inadequately stresses communication and collaboration skills, and does not provide in-house training if still lacking (***).
Technology, Process and Training
These are possible reasons why collaboration fails due to technology, process or training. They represent about one-eighth (12%) of the reasons proferred by Pollard, but also realize his original premise was on human or psychological reasons, so it is not surprising this category is less represented:
- People know more than they can tell (some experience you just have to show) & tell more than they can write down (composing takes a lot of time) (Snowden’s rule) (*)
- People feel overwhelmed with content volume and complex tools (info overload, and poverty of imagination) (* split)
- People will find ways to work around imposed tools, processes and other resources that they don’t like or want to use (and then deny it if they’re called to account for it) (**)
- Employees lack the appreciation for the importance of collaboration to the success of their employer and their job (***)
- Most means for “recording” the raw data and information for collaboration have too much “friction” (***)
- There needs to be clear divisions between “capturing” knowledge and information and “packaging” it for internal or external consumption (***)
- Single-source publication techniques suck (***)
- Testing, screening, vetting and making new technology or process advantages is generally lacking (***).
Cost, Rewards and Incentives
These are possible reasons why collaboration fails due to the cost and rewards structure, again about one-eighth (12%) of the reasons proferred by Pollard. Again, realize his original premise was on human or psychological reasons, so it is not surprising this category is less represented:
- The true cost of acquiring information (time wasted looking for it) and the cost of not knowing (Katrina, 9/11, Poultry Flu etc.) are both greatly underestimated in most organizations (*)
- Rewards for sharing knowledge don’t work for long (*)
- People value information they paid for more highly than that they get free from their own people (thus the existence of the consulting industry) (from James Governor) (**)
- Find reduced cost document solutions (***)
- Link performance pay to collaboration goals (***).
Insights and Quibbles
There are some 25 reasons provided by Dave and his blog respondents, actually closer to 40 when my own are added, that represent a pretty complete compendium of “why collaboration fails.” Though I can pick out individual ones of these to praise or criticize that would miss the point.
The objective is neither to collect the largest numbers of such factors or to worry terribly about how they are organized. But there are some interesting insights.
Clearly, human behavior and psychology provides the baseline for looking at these questions. Management’s role is to provide organizational structure, incentives, training, pay and recognition to reward the collaborative behavior it desires and needs. Actually, management’s challenge is even greater than that since in most cases upper level managers don’t yet have a clue as to the importance of the underlying information nor collaboration around it.
Like in years past, leadership for these questions needs to come from the top. The disappointments of the CIO and CKO positions of years past need to be looked at closely and given attention. The idea of these positions in the past was not wrong; what was wrong was the execution and leadership commitment.
Organizations of all types and natures have figured out how to train and incentivize its employees for difficult duties ranging from war to first response to discretion. Putting in place reward and training programs to encourage collaboration — despite piss poor performance today — should not be so difficult in this light.
I think Dave brings many valuable insights into such areas as people being reluctant to reinvent the wheel but liking creative design, or without some sense of ownership a collaboration repository is at risk, or people are afraid to look stupid, or some people communciate better orally v. in written form, etc. These are, in fact, truisms of human diversity and skill differences. I believe firmly if organizations want to purposefully understand these factors they can still design reward, training and recognition regimens to shape the behavior desired by that organization.
The real problem in the question of collaboration within the enterprise begins at the top. If the organization is not aware and geared to address human nature with appropriate training and rewards, it will continue to see the poor performance around collaboration that has characterized this issue for decades.
|NOTE: This posting is part of a series looking at why document assets are so poorly utilized within enterprises. The magnitude of this problem was first documented in a BrightPlanet white paper by the author titled, Untapped Assets: The $3 Trillion Value of U.S. Enterprise Documents. An open question in that paper was why more than $800 billion per year in the U.S. alone is wasted and available for improvements, but enterprise expenditures to address this problem remain comparatively small and with flat growth in comparison to the rate of document production. This series is investigating the various technology, people, and process reasons for the lack of attention to this problem.|
 There have been some other interesting treatments of barriers to collaboration including that by Carol Kinsey Goman’s Five reasons people don’t tell what they know and Jack Vinson’s Barriers to knowledge sharing.
 Pollard’s initial 16 reasons are shown with a single symbol (*); the next 8 additions with a double symbol (**). All remaining reasons added by me have three symbols (***).