working collaboratively and learning cooperatively

Improving Organizational Performance

Organizational performance improvement is comprised of reducing errors and increasing insights, according to Gary Klein. For the past century, management has primarily focused on error reduction, with practices such as Six Sigma, especially in manufacturing.

“Fifty-eight of the top Fortune 200 companies bought into Six Sigma, attesting to the appeal of eliminating errors. The results of this ‘experiment’ were striking: 91 per cent of the Six Sigma companies failed to keep up with the S&P 500 because Six Sigma got in the way of innovation. It interfered with insights.” —Gary Klein

Learning and development (L&D) practices reflect this priority on error reduction. But knowledge work, especially creative work, is not mere production.

“Visualize the workflow of a physical job: produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce, produce.

Now visualize the workflow of a creative knowledge worker: nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, flash of brilliance, nothing, nothing, nothing.” —Jay Cross (1944-2015)

Based on 120 case studies, Gary Klein identified five types of ‘triggers’ that produced insights.

  1. Contradictions
  2. Creative Desperation
  3. Connections
  4. Coincidences
  5. Curiosity

Most of these five triggers can be enhanced through informal and social learning, and the individual practice of personal knowledge mastery. Insights often come while working, resting, and playing — or even in the shower — but not while undergoing formal education or training.

Knowledge-sharing Requires Trust

The sharing of complex knowledge — the type of which creative knowledge workers use — requires strong social ties and trusted professional relationships.

“Being motivated to share what you know with others requires trust — not only trusting those others (something that is diminished with competition), but also trusting the larger institution within which the sharing of expertise is occurring … strong interpersonal relationships that allowed discussion, questions, and feedback were an essential aspect of the transfer of complex knowledge” —Hinds & Pfeffer (2003)

There is minimum business value in just finding and sharing information. Assumptions need to be challenged in order to learn, but we are not open to these challenges unless we trust those we work with and learn from. The gap between information and action requires social learning in a work environment that promotes psychological safety.

Collaboration + Cooperation

Two types of behaviours are necessary in the network era workplace — collaboration and cooperation. Cooperation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary. Cooperation differs from collaboration in that it is sharing freely without any expectation of reciprocation or reward. Collaboration is working together for a common objective, often externally directed by management or a client.

Cooperation drives the extended enterprise — customers, suppliers, partners, and anyone else touched by the organization. Teams, groups, and markets collaborate. Online social networks and communities of practice cooperate. Working cooperatively requires a different mindset than collaborating on a defined project.

As work gets more complex and value less tangible, extending collaboration toward cooperation, across boundaries and silos, will ensure that workers stay connected and adaptable to changing conditions. Collaboration is best when the business objectives are clear, but cooperation will ensure organizational resilience as markets get smarter and faster.

While better collaboration can justify social tools, improved cooperation can ensure their long-term use by a hyper-connected workforce. Smart enterprises should support both. To be effective, collaborative work needs to be done by cooperative people. I have identified seven facets of collaboration and cooperation in the workplace, with sensemaking combining both aspects.

Knowledge Flow

Some knowledge is easy to codify, but most of our important knowledge is not. Explicit knowledge is easier to codify and more suitable for enterprise-wide initiatives, while implicit knowledge requires personal interpretation and engagement to make sense of it. The organization can help this knowledge to flow. Three related knowledge management (KM) processes are required — PKM, Team KM, and Org KM.

PKM focuses on individual sense-making, but within a social context and in various networks. It is a self-directed way to develop our expertise, especially through loose relationships in our social networks and stronger ones in our communities of practice. The organization needs to support, not direct, these connections.

Team KM is based on narrating our work — often using enterprise social networks — so that everyone on a team knows what is going on and why. Decisions, and why they were made, are shared. New processes and methods are co-developed to create emergent practices. This method of work has to be supported by management by enabling — innovative and contextual methods, the self-selection of the most appropriate tools and work conditions, and willing cooperation between workers.

With PKM and Team KM in place, the organization can concentrate on curating the outputs of knowledge work. It provides the systems of record that can be searched and queried so that mistakes and exceptions are not repeated. Knowledge has to flow from implicit to explicit, understanding that its transfer remains messy and inexact. There must be flexibility at the individual level so that knowledge workers can develop trusted relationships over time. Knowledge resides in people, not the knowledge management system.


Learning is the Work

Social networks can provide inspiration but sensemaking requires the resolve to solve problems. This means the integration of learning and working. Flipping from learning to working is a continuous process on a daily basis. Being able to make the shift between curiosity and resolve several times a day is the mark of successful professionals in creative, networked workplaces. We have to feed our curiosity, support learning in community, and resolve to solve our problems together.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

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