Expand Your Collaboration 'Footprint' - InformationWeek
Software // Productivity/Collaboration Apps
09:06 AM
Dennis Pearce
Dennis Pearce
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Expand Your Collaboration 'Footprint'

Use the collaboration footprint method to reveal strengths and weaknesses in how your business shares information.

For most enterprises, successful online collaboration requires massive behavior change across the company. In thinking about how to get many people each to change a little, I borrowed a technique from those who wrestle with a similar predicament: addressing climate change.

We can take many actions to slow climate change, but most of them require millions of people to change their behavior in a coordinated way. So how do you get people out of the "What can I do? I'm just one person" mode of thinking? One small step each person can take is to track his carbon footprint. The goal, of course, is to make your own footprint as small as possible; there are even calculators to help you do it.

Just as your carbon footprint assesses how much carbon dioxide you produce, maybe we need a collaboration footprint to determine how successful we are at working out loud. Our goal, in this case, is not to shrink it, but to make it as large as possible. The key question for each of us to ask is "How visible is my work to other employees? How easy is it for them to find it without my help?" (OK, I guess that's two key questions.)

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I came up with three dimensions in which we might measure visibility.

  • Time: If your organization hires someone six months from now and he needs access to information you currently have, how easy is it to find? How easy will it be to find five years from now? How about five years after you've retired?
  • Space: Sure, other people in your department know what you're doing, but what about the people doing a similar job in another department? In another country? What about the people who are upstream or downstream in a process you manage or execute?
  • Management chain: No matter how high up in your organization you are, how well do your information, activities, and decisions get communicated to those above or below you?

OK, so what units would we use in each dimension? I came up with six for each, just to make things nice and even.

  • Time: Today, a week, a month, a year, several years, no limit
  • Space (or geography): Department, function, site, country, region, global
  • Management chain (up or down): 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 or more management levels

Take some time and go back through the content you've created in the last month or so, and measure it along those three dimensions. You can even display those measures as a radar chart to give it that "footprint" look.

The goal should be to make your footprint as large as possible, or at the very least to force yourself to come up with valid business reasons why the score along one or more of the axes should be small. But if you find yourself with one that looks like this, you might ask yourself why.

Are you hoarding valuable information, or is the information you create not worth sharing?

The goal of the collaboration footprint is not necessarily to have a precise metric for collaboration, but to get employees thinking about how (or even if) they are sharing the information and knowledge they create in their jobs. Some information will always need to be tightly held and controlled. Companies often like to err on the side of caution, but what they don't realize is that, more often than not, the hidden cost of employees not having the information necessary to do their jobs outweighs the cost of that information being seen by someone who shouldn't.

Please share any comments about this idea -- positive or negative -- along with any other ideas you might have about other scales you might use to assess collaboration.

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Dennis Pearce has over 30 years experience in manufacturing, product development, quality, IT, and knowledge management. He is currently Enterprise Knowledge Architect for Lexmark International, Inc., focusing on internal and external collaboration strategies and systems. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
5/20/2014 | 7:16:20 AM
Re: Collaboration changes
Yes, outdated tools can cause some collaboration issues but I dare to say that even with the best tools available the default for most people is to hold on to what they have and sharing is only done upon request.  We do a fair amount of SharePoint here, in fact we just redesigned our intranet earlier this year to promote collaboration but it is tough to break old habits.  I have some teams that are on board and really want to get deeper into what they can do with SharePoint but then there are others that have zero interest and they want to hold everything very tightly.  I get the feeling from some of them that they believe if other people know what they know then we don't need them around and that is a sad attitude to have.  The other obstacle is that it takes effort to change habits and many people don't want to change.
User Rank: Author
5/19/2014 | 3:44:28 PM
Re: Collaboration changes
In many cases we have outdated collaboration tools, as well. Your problem may not be idea hoarding; it may be your internal wiki or your Sharepoint implementation.
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
5/19/2014 | 10:01:27 AM
Your experiences
Readers: How would you rate your business's collaboration footprint? What other methods do you use to assess collaboration?
User Rank: Ninja
5/19/2014 | 9:24:14 AM
Collaboration changes
I think that we have a very out dated idea of what collaboration is.  I see people who think that emailing a document to colleagues is collaboration but if I ask them to put it in a shared space so that everyone can work on it as a constantly changing document they get defensive.  My opinion is that if you have input that is valuable you don't have to "own" the idea or a document that holds your ideas.  The best way to add value to your input is to share it and have other people validate your input then put it to use.  You could have the answers to the world's problems but if you don't share them nothing will ever change.
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