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?
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.
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.
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.
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?