"you simply can’t train people to be social!"

Over the past year I have been working on change initiatives to improve collaboration and knowledge-sharing with two large companies, one of them a multinational. In each case, implementation has boiled down to two components: individual skills & organizational support. Effective organizational collaboration comes about when workers regularly narrate their work within a structure that encourages transparency and shares power & decision-making. I have also learned that changing work routines can be a messy process that requires significant time, much of it dedicated to modelling behaviours. 

My Internet Time Alliance colleague, Jane Hart, notes, … as for the new social and collaboration skills that workers require, well you simply can’t train people to be social! What was required was getting down and dirty and helping people understand what it actually meant to work collaboratively in the new social workplace, and the value that this would bring to them.

Jane refers to the collaboration pyramid by Oscar Berg, an excellent model to show what needs to be addressed to become a social business.

The low visibility activities link directly to personal knowledge mastery (PKM) skills, based on the process of Seeking information & knowledge; making Sense of it; and Sharing higher value information with others. These individual activities are not a single skill-set that can be trained in a classroom. They have to be internalized and perceived as valuable to each person in order to achieve the discipline to use them regularly. Every person’s PKM processes will differ. As Jane notes, one size doesn’t fit all.

It is a difficult path to get acceptance that each worker is responsible for his or her own learning and additionally must be a contributing member of a network. PKM is individuals retaking control of learning, and making it transparent. It takes time, but it also requires a receptive environment.

Creating a supportive social environment is management’s responsibility. These activities are shown on the upper part of the pyramid, above the water line. Some specific examples of activities I have been involved in over the past year include:

  • Support for small innovation teams to initiate and practice the new collaboration and knowledge-sharing skills.
  • Daily routines of posting observations and sharing with team members.
  • Weekly “virtual coffee” to catch up and help build social bonds.
  • Adding activity-stream technologies to productivity tool suites.
  • Constant analysis of activity data.
  • Providing dedicated time for reflection [this is a tough one to get management buy-in].
  • Regular mediated events like “Yam-Jams” on a select theme.
  • Creation of internal communications material to make social learning and social business more understandable.
  • Professional development activities using the same social media as will be used to work.
  • Face to face social activities.
  • Many conversations [usually Skype or telephone] and much one-on-one support as people work at becoming more social.
  • Social & Value network analyses to visualize network thinking.

My experience is that changing to more collaborative, networked ways of work requires coordinated change activities from both the top and the bottom. It has to be a two-pronged approach and it will take some time and effort.

Note: Oscar Berg has made a higher resolution image available on Flickr with a CC-BY license: The Collaboration Pyramid

10 Responses to “"you simply can’t train people to be social!"”

  1. David Wachter

    Totally agree you can’t train people to be social…and I wonder if the “social workplace” where employees work in a transparent and collaborative manner is achievable or a pipe dream. Beyond the well-intentioned few, a majority of employees don’t want to be social, don’t want to collaborate, and don’t want any part of managing knowledge.

    Today’s overloaded worker wants fast access to information and expertise when needed so they can get their job done. They’ll collaborate and engage socially when necessary to meet this need but its not a natural act. This is a constant that is not likely to change despite the best efforts of consultants and software developers.

    The best social and collaborative systems will be those that are highly agile and virtually invisible to workers. They’ll quietly digest information as a by-product of how people work – and be agile enough to allow for the fact that everyone works differently. Employing powerful analytics they’ll separate the “wheat from the chaff” and build a store of relevant and context-aware knowledge. And then deliver that knowledge via apps with which users are already familiar and comfortable.

    David Wachter
    CMO @Hivemine

  2. Harold Jarche

    Today’s overloaded worker has too much busy work and not enough time to focus on value creation. Complex work needs simplified design. I agree that systems will have to be agile but they will not “deliver” knowledge.

    As Dave Jonassen says:

    “Every amateur epistemologist knows that knowledge cannot be managed. Education has always assumed that knowledge can be transferred and that we can carefully control the process through education. That is a grand illusion.”

    Speaking of an achievable, democratic workplace, check out Morning Star.

  3. Jon Husband

    It’s a very sound approach suggested that will / would, I think, ensure that work and workers would be able to keep on adapting as change rolls on .. interactivity and transparency practically guarantee that continual change.

    Eventually, these bullet points or some similar will be just the way things are done around here, and it will be … the new workplace.

  4. Tom Hood


    Love this post, especially the 3 Ss – Seeking, Sensing and Sharing and the notion of the need for all of us to take responsibility for creating our own PKNs. We have been working on this for awhile in the CPA Profession that has to work hard to keep their L>C (rate of learning greater than the rate of change. Thanks for your thought leadership and inspiration!



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