Collaboration is too important to neglect. Whether managers create a collaborative environment where collaboration “just happens,” or if strategic efforts are made to ensure that people collaborate, it’s now clear that the successful organization is one in which collaboration is a critical building block.
Some years ago, Edward M. Marshall – who might have been considered the father of the collaborative workplace if Peter Drucker hadn’t got there first – strongly advocated the collaborative environment. Marshall even went so far as to predict that collaboration would replace hierarchy as the preferred management methodology of the 21st century.
It didn’t quite turn out that way, but in today’s management community, the message is well remembered. Today every good manager builds their leadership framework on a foundation that incorporates collaboration into the workplace. It’s just the way we manage nowadays, and we don’t talk much about it. Collaboration is just what we do.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Marshall referred to collaboration as a “principle-based process of working together,” a process he characterized as “the way people naturally want to work.”
Of course. Why did it take so long, do you think, for managers to come around to understanding the role of collaboration? And it’s value?
There are probably a lot of reasons, but we don’t need to weigh in with them now. Why earlier managers didn’t think about the importance of collaboration isn’t really all that important, now that we are where we are. Suffice to say that here at SMR International, we often bring up the topic of collaboration when we counsel clients. And frequently with a single phrase, coined by a colleague not so long ago when she was transitioning her specialized library to a corporate knowledge center.
“We’re moving in this direction for one reason,” she said at the time. “Marginalization avoidance.”
OK. Perhaps the phrase is a little gimmick-y but it defines what she and her company were trying to do. She and her team (and corporate management) had discovered that the well-managed, well-structured corporate library for which she had management responsibility was in trouble. It was not attracting customers. People were getting their information elsewhere, and only when she stepped in and joined a project or team as the knowledge-sharing specialist did they recognize – and come to value – the role of KM and knowledge services to the organization.
How did she do it? What unique steps did she take to avoid marginalization?
There were six, as valid today when she used them to re-focus her operation:
Integrate. The first step is the easiest. Get out into the corporation, learn about what people are working on and join them. Identify where they need to share knowledge and help them figure out how to do it. Demonstrate to teams, working groups, CoPs, and anybody else who needs to know how strategic knowledge transfer works in their particular situation.
Live where your colleagues live. Coming from the above, the strategic knowledge services manager gets out of the office. Indeed, in some companies and organizations your team won’t even have an office. You’ll be on call to advise as required. Collaboration comes easily once people know what the strategic knowledge team can do.
Use what the users use. Forget about maintaining collections and building up resources. Once you and your team identify projects and working groups that need an embedded strategic knowledge professional, make it your business to learn – from the group – what tools, techniques, and dedicated resources generally support their work. Then, using your strategic knowledge expertise, transfer your own skills to managing and enabling your knowledge customers.
Leverage organizational tools for knowledge creation. At the same time, each member of the strategic knowledge team should acquire high levels of facility in identifying and working with organizational activities that advance your role in the company. If a committee needs another member and the subject is one you or one of your team know something about, step up. Become the committee’s knowledge specialist (and you’ll probably end up chairing the committee!). Your fellow committee members will be very surprised – and very grateful.
Form partnerships. As part of your organizational networking (especially with committee assignments such as the situation just described), make it your business – or that of one of your team who has the assignment – to identify people from other departments who can use the expertise of strategic knowledge managers, just as you can use some of their expertise in whatever field is their strength. Then team up on projects – official, informal, or simply recreational. You’ll be surprised at how important strategic knowledge management will become in the organization.
Merge information and knowledge, and bring in strategic learning. Make it your business to ensure that colleagues and co-workers start to recognize that the so-called “distance” between information and knowledge is a myth (especially when you think of IT/ICT and KM as functions). Move on over to knowledge services by bringing strategic learning into the mix and you’ll soon find you have many like-minded colleagues in the company. To paraphrase Marshall and his concept of collaboration, merging information and knowledge is the way people want to work. Take advantage of it and bring collaboration into your company’s overall knowledge-sharing structure.