Culture of Collaboration

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I'm was the middle of reading The Culture of Collaboration when I made this weekend's post.  I realized that the Wiki Wading tip #2 ties in with some of the ideas thus far in the book.

In the first chapter "Climate Shift: Embracing Rich, Real-Time Collaboration", Evan Rosen proclaims, "The inbox culture is dead."  Our world is changing so rapidly that the old model of sending, forwarding and replying through traditional inboxes and even email inboxes creates delays. The turn-around time on collaborative projects and decision making is much faster in real-time.

However, in order for us to make the jump from the inbox to collaborative tools requires a cultural change.  Rosen notes that culture often trails technical capabilities.  Information hoarding--intentional or unintentional--is part of the inbox culture than needs to give way to collaboration.

How to we change our inbox culture to the collaborative one Rosen advocates?  I suppose we should start by looking at why information hoarding occurs in the first place:


1. We take for granted that our information keepers will be with the department forever.

When you first set up a wiki, you might be tempted to round up the newest people in your department for a pilot because you feel they will be more receptive than those who have been workign in the "inbox culture" for years.  While they may be more receptive to change, these newbies might have less content of value to offer anyone else--unless you set them out documenting the answers to questions they have been asking.  (More on this later.)

Here's an idea for an initial wiki pilot group: consider targeting the people who have been with the department longest.  These people have accumulated--by their very tenure at your department--a vast wealth of institutional knowledge that many others don't possess, but probably wish they could access.


2. We get so caught up in the organizational hierarchy that we avoid documenting projects and processes that fall outside or across our departments.

Has this ever happened to you?  You search for days to find the answer to a problem or a question about procedure only to find the answer resides with a person, not any form of written documentation.

You want to save the next person a bit of time by noting the answer, but are reluctant to do so.  Where do you document it?  Will you need to make sure you have access to this space?  What if you document the answer incorrectly?  Are you stepping on someone's toes by documenting it in the first place?  You could ask around, but chances are someone will form a committee around it, try to get official approval, and eventually the whole thing will fall through.  Who knows? Maybe the last person who had to track this down, had the same issues when thinking about who to leave you with the answers you need.

One benefit of wikis is that, while many of them do allow you to set granular permissions on storage spaces, they do not lock the user community into a predefined hierarchy.  If a page isn't found, create it.  Go on, go to https://confluence.et-test.psu.edu/ right now and make a page.

Another benefit of wikis is that anyone can edit your work, at any time. (Note: You do have the ability to set read/write permissions.) Once you've made the page, go back and invite the information source to correct it.  (If you have newer staff members on a wiki pilot, this is a great way to get them active in documentation.)  If someone does not want your page later because a team has decided to document this in a different way, you can always delete it.


3. We keep our work hidden to protect it from criticism and/or suggested changes.

Not everyone seeks the limelight.  Sometimes we avoid putting information out in the open because we fear it will make an easy target.  Our work is an extension of ourselves; no wonder we fear every piece of it falling under public scrutiny.

However, there is always that little outward facing piece of what you do, documented or not, that is visible to others. Would you rather have this piece judged out of context or in the context of the whole of what you do?  Use documentation to make a full case of what you do, and why you chose to do it in a certain way. 

Like it or not, your work is speaking for you.  You might as well give it a few talking points.

4. We value information keepers as indispensable experts instead of criticizing their inability to document and/or delegate.

This problem needs to be tackled differently depending upon your position.  If you are a supervisor, reconsider your information keepers.  Is there a good reason why someone holds information that is unavailable to anyone else?  If not, consider making the documentation of this information a priority and one of the goals on which he/she will be evaluated.

If you are not a supervisor,  do a little self-evaluation.  I used to teach in a high school.  When I was out, the lesson still had to continue in my absence.  Imagine your job would be done by a substitute when you are out.  What things would a complete stranger need to know to do your job as well as you do it.  If your job cannot be done without you, then you have failed.

There are a number of reasons why you should leave every position more documented then when you start:

  • Your documentation can be used as a concrete example of the work you do.  Attach it to an SRDP.  Take it to a job interview.
  • Allowing your department to struggle without you will not make them suddenly realize how valuable you are.  If something goes wrong, the best person to blame is a target no longer around to defend himself/herself; you're it.
  • You don't to avoid doing two jobs for the price of one.  You probably don't want to start a new job with the old one still calling you.
  • All your hard work will be in vain.  If you avoided documenting your work to escape criticism and avoid suggestions for change, imagine what changes they'll make if they need to reinvent your work because you left them with no information.

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