If collaboration was a natural and thriving endeavour, then it seems unlikely that there would be such a clamour from organisations to do it better. A recent IBM study for instance found that over half of organisations wanted to collaborate better, which is great, except many organisations are setup with some natural barriers to the collaboration they crave. Here are four of the main barriers that exist. See how many are present in your own organisation.
Collaboration Barrier #1 – Hoarders
This is a problem I’m sure many of you are familiar with, and in many ways it’s a natural consequence of the way our renumeration policies are created. Our organisations are typically setup to reward people for their individual achievements. They have their KPIs and their performances are rated against these metrics (often at this time of year). All of which may be great, but it does kinda encourage people to keep the knowledge they have to themselves. When you’re in competition with your colleagues, that knowledge is not only powerful, it is also lucrative when it comes to determining the bonus you get or the pay rise you’ve earnt.
Collaboration Barrier #2 – Hidden knowledge
The people in your organisation know an awful lot. In most cases that would be regarded as a real competitive advantage. The problem is that most organisations are aware of but a fraction fo the knowledge held inside their employees minds. Mining the knowledge employees have is of course merely half of the battle, for it’s then crucial that people are able to find the right experts to help them with the problem they have. If you don’t know that knowledge exists, or you don’t know how to find it, then it makes collaboration pretty much impossible.
Collaboration Barrier #3 – Not invented here syndrome
Siloes are a common feature of many workplaces. They could exist around functions or regions or even hierachies. It’s also increasingly common that these siloes are given a large degree of autonomy as to how they operate. Whether these barriers are physical or merely mental they are often extremely damaging to collaboration. For instance, do your senior managers accept ideas from those beneath them in the hierachy or is there a culture whereby only those on the same level can collaborate? Is there a culture where asking others for help is seen as an admission of failure or ignorance?
Collaboration Barrier #4 – Transferring hard to encode information
In knowledge management terminology there is explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is the kind that is easy to document. Tacit knowledge however is much harder, yet is often critical to the expertise we have as individuals. Explaining how you ride a bicycle is very difficult for instance or how you’re such a good public speaker. These things often take a lot of practice to build up the expertise, and explaining them to others can be a real challenge. To transfer such tacit knowledge also often requires excellent working relationships between the two parties. If you only have a weak connection, it is unlikely that the knowledge transfer will take place.