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8/25/2006
03:00 PM
Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
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How To Tap the Right Employees for Workplace Collaboration

Anyone who reads this blog knows that new technologies are rapidly changing the way companies work, and the way employees collaborate. But not everyone is inherently a collaborator, and not all collaborators do so in the same way. As you start to deploy new tools to encourage and enable collaboration, including wikis and content management systems that require users to both add to the knowledge base (typically by posting content) and draw from the knowledge base (to develop new ideas and products), it’s critical to recognize which employees are doing what, why they’re doing it, and how their specific efforts can best serve the organization.

In the knowledge economy, it’s also critical to recognize that we are not automatons, that no two individuals are exactly alike, and that multiple skill sets and personalities are necessary to create a truly successful company. Asking everyone to approach collaborative knowledge sharing the exact same way won’t work—all it will get you is a failed IT deployment and a lot of dissatisfied workers. To avoid those nasty results, and several others, make sure you understand the two types of collaborative personalities, and how to leverage them for success:

1. Creators. These people are constantly developing new ideas and content. Depending on the business you’re in, the kind of content they produce will vary, but the bottom line is always the same: Creators like to produce from the ground up. If you give them an opportunity to share their work, they’ll do so happily (be it for fame, fortune or glory), so look to creators to post to wikis and Web sites and keep document management portals full.

2. Builders. These people like to riff off of other people’s content to come up with more—more deliverables, more products, more ideas. They often troll other people’s work, seeking out connections and deeper meanings not automatically visible, even to the original creators. Builders are not plagiarists—they simply get inspiration from their co-workers, then launch new initiatives from there. Give these guys a content-management system and they’ll use it heavily, but they won’t necessarily contribute heavily to the original knowledge base.

Knowledge-based organizations need both creators and builders to succeed, and one type is not inherently better than the other. That’s important to realize because a lot of managers immediately assume creators have more value, if for no other reason than you can clearly see the results of their work (original ideas, posted often!). But no one’s going anywhere without the builders, too—indeed, the best managers and executives may have started as creators but must often become builders as they lead teams and drive projects.

Of course, if your lucky, you’ll have some employees who are good at both creating and building—these are your superstars, so hang on to them. At the same time, you’ll likely have at least as many people who don’t appear to be good at either creating or building—people who resist collaborating every step of the way. In these cases, it’s important search for the cause of the problem.

People who resist collaboration may have the worst of motives, but more often they simply don’t know how to share their knowledge. In some cases, that’s because they literally don’t know how to use the technology that’s been deployed to support their collaborative efforts, so always ensure employees have adequate and ongoing training.

Other employees have spent so long working in organizations where collaboration is neither encouraged nor rewarded that they may not realize collaboration is valued in the new world—make sure they do, and are incented to keep pace.

Finally, some people are simply not built to collaborate—they may be fiercely independent, or terribly shy. This last group may be the hardest to convert; and indeed, in some cases, it may make more sense uncover the ways in which these collaborative holdouts can further the company’s goals on their own, rather than forcing them to work in a way that, for them, may always be is uncomfortable and unsuccessful.

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