Bridging the Knowledge Sharing/Problem Solving Divide

problem-solvingWorking across organisational boundaries

One of the most frequently cited reasons we hear for implementing an enterprise social network platform is to “enable our organisation to better communicate and collaborate across organisational boundaries”.

The real objective is to let information and knowledge flow more freely to solve challenge business problems. This is the point where the focus changes from generic SHARING to business focused (problem-) SOLVING:

ps

We’re previously introduced this maturity framework that incorporates the 4 stages of Simon Terry’s model, and in a recent discussion with Simon he shared with us with some constructive insights that he has drawn from the application of his maturity model.

He indicated to us that:

“Up to SHARING, people are just engaged in social exchange. It is chat. That can be entirely internal to the ESN and not connected to the business. Beyond that point they are delivering benefits from collaborative work. Moving over that transition and understanding the behaviours beyond that point is essential.

Simon then proceeded to describe the key things to consider in the ‘SOLVING’ stage as:

“Value chains and projects and their relationships to the silos captured in your Cross-team collaboration widget”.

In this post we will therefore review the SWOOP ‘Cross-Team Collaboration’ widget and give you insights about how this can help you in your enterprise social adoption efforts. Together with the recently reviewed Influential People and Response Rate widgets they collectively support the ‘SOLVE’ Stage.

solve

The Cross-Team collaboration widget identifies the levels of interaction between selected organisational dimensions. The most common use is to identify interactions between the formal lines of business.

Two representations are offered:

  • The matrix view shades the intersecting squares by the relative interaction levels. The diagonal represents intra-unit interactions.
  • The map view (see below) more succinctly illustrates the degree to which different units are interacting.

collab

If you have created a cross-enterprise group, or community of practice, it will tell you the degree to which all divisions have been engaged. If you have a corporate initiative that has been launched with a topic hash tag, it will also tell you the degree of cross-divisional engagement.

In a typical hierarchy, we would anticipate that most interactions would occur inside the formal structures, or between divisions along a defined value chain e.g. marketing interactions with sales. Cross organisational groups or teams are usually formed to facilitate interactions across the formal lines of business, for example a Supply/Value chain.

The Cross-Team Collaboration widget provides a view into the degree to which these cross organisational teams are effective. While interactions between formal departments is the most common, geographic location is also a popular dimension to explore interaction levels.

What is the Business Imperative?

It is the apparent inflexibility and poor responsiveness of the formal hierarchy that motivates many organisations to adopt enterprise social networks. Formal hierarchies are designed for efficient execution of pre-determined processes. However, CEOs are now looking for more than this. David Thodey, the former CEO of Australia’s largest Telco, summed up the sentiment by indicating that he wanted to short circuit the entrenched communication channels. He wanted his management team to be able to have authentic conversations with staff at all levels. Similarly, we recall a statement made by a former CEOs at BHP Billiton, an industrial resources conglomerate that was very process driven:

“Silos are not bad, this is how we get work done. We just need to dig some holes in the sides!” (please excuse the mining analogy)

Another of our favourite thought leaders is Heidi Gardner, a former McKinsey consultant and Harvard Business School professor now lecturing at Harvard Law School. She has spent over a decade conducting in-depth studies of numerous global professional service firms. Her research with clients and the empirical results of her studies demonstrate clearly and convincingly that collaboration pays, for both professionals and their firms. In her book Smart Collaboration, she shows that firms earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, attract and retain the best talent, and gain a competitive edge when specialists collaborate across functional boundaries. The Cross-Team Collaboration widget enables you to measure if this is actually happening, and is one of the most important widgets connecting business outcomes with the adoption of your enterprise social network.

Specifically, in terms of problem solving, there will be problems that traverse the business unit boundaries. For example, a customer support problem may appear to be an operations problem, but perhaps the genesis of the problem is with Sales or Marketing, by how a product or service was represented to the customer in the first place. Also, supply chain problems are by definition, inter-dependent and cannot be solved by a single business unit. The Cross Team Collaboration widget can signal whether these cross-business unit problems are being addressed as a shared problem. If a cross-business unit problem has been hash tagged, it is also possible to use the SWOOP Topic tab to identify where the participants in the tagged problem solving activity are coming from. Are they appropriately cross-business unit?

Summary

Bridging the ‘sharing’ to ‘solving’ divide requires a stronger focus on what the business is trying to achieve. What are the key problems or challenges that must be met? What are the specific and identified collaborative interactions between the different organisational units, that will be required to solve them? The SWOOP Cross-unit Collaboration widget, along with the Response Rate and Influential People widgets have been designed to help you bridge the ‘Sharing’ to ‘Solving’ divide.

This post continues our series on key SWOOP indicators.

 

Are we Getting Closer to True Knowledge Sharing Systems?

knowledge-systems

(image credit: https://mariaalbatok.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/religious-knowledge-systems/)

First generation knowledge management (KM) systems were essentially re-labelled content stores. Labelling such content as ‘knowledge’ did much to discredit the whole Knowledge Management movement of the 1990s. During this time, I commonly referred to knowledge management systems as needing to comprise both “collections and connections”, but we had forgotten about the “connections”.  This shortcoming was addressed with the advent of Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) systems like Yammer, Jive, IBM Connect and now Workplace from Facebook. So now we do have both collections and connections. But do we now have true knowledge sharing?

Who do we Rely on for Knowledge Based Support?

A common occupation for KM professionals is to try and delineate a boundary between information, that can be effectively managed in an information store, and knowledge, which is implicitly and tacitly held by individuals. Tacit knowledge, arguably, can only be shared through direct human interaction. In our Social Network Analysis (SNA) consulting work we regularly surveyed staff on who they relied on to get their work done. We stumbled on the idea of asking them to qualify their selections by choosing only one of:

  • They review and approve my work (infers a line management connection)
  • They provide information that I need (infers an information brokering connection)
  • They provide advice to help me solve difficult problems (infers a knowledge based connection)

The forced choice was key. It proved to be a great way of delineating the information brokers from the true knowledge providers and the pure line managers. When we created our ‘top 10 lists’ for each role, there was regularly very little overlap. For organisations, the critical value in these nominations is that the knowledge providers are the hardest people to replace, and therefore it is critical to know who they are. And who they are, is not always apparent to line management!

So how do staff distribute their connections needs amongst line managers, information brokers and knowledge providers? We collated the results of several organisational surveys, comprising over 35,000 nominations, using this identical question, and came up with the following:

work-done

With 50% of the nominations, the results reinforce the perception that knowledge holders are critical to any organisation.

What do Knowledge Providers Look Like?

So what is special about these peer identified knowledge providers? Are they the ‘wise owls’ of the organisation, with long experiences spanning many different areas? Are they technical specialists with deep knowledge about fairly narrow areas? We took one organisation’s results and assessed the leaders of each of the categories of Approve/review, Information and Knowledge/Advice looking for their breadth or diversity of influence. We measured this by calculating the % of connections, nominating them as an important resource, that came from outside their home business unit. Here are the results:

external-links

As we might anticipate, the inferred line management had the broadest diversity of influence. The lowest % being for the knowledge providers, suggests that it’s not the broadly experienced wise old owls, but those specialising in relatively narrow areas, where people are looking for knowledge/advice from.

Implications for Knowledge Sharing Systems

We have previously written about our Network Performance Framework, where performance is judged based on how individuals, groups, or even full organisations balance diversity and cohesion in their internal networks:

personal-networking

The above framework identifies ‘Specialists’ as those who have limited diversity but a strong following i.e. many nominations as a key resource. These appear to be the people identifying as critical knowledge providers.

The question now is to whether online systems are identifying and supporting specialists to share their knowledge? At SWOOP we have aimed to explore this question initially by using a modification of this performance framework on interactions data drawn from Microsoft Yammer installations:

performance

We measured each individual’s diversity of connections (y-axis) from their activities across multiple Yammer groups. The x-axis identifies the number of reciprocated connections an individual has i.e. stronger ties, together with the size of their personal network, identified by the size of the bubble representing them. We can see here that we have been able to identify those selected few ‘Specialists’ in the lower diversity/stronger cohesion quadrant, from their Yammer activities. These specialists all have relatively large networks of influence.

What we might infer from the above analysis is that an ESN like Yammer can identify those most prospective knowledge providers that staff are seeking out for knowledge transfer. But the bigger question is whether actual knowledge transfer can happen solely through an ESN like Yammer?

Is Having Systems that Provide Connections and Collections Enough to Ensure Effective Knowledge Sharing?

The knowledge management and social networking research is rich with studies addressing the question of how social network structure impacts on effective knowledge sharing. While an exhaustive literature review is beyond the scope of this article, for those inclined, this article on Network Structure and Knowledge Transfer: The Effects of Cohesion and Range is representative. Essentially this research suggests that ‘codified’ knowledge is best transferred through weak ties, but tacit knowledge sharing requires strong tie relationships. Codified knowledge commonly relates to stored artefacts like best practice procedural documents, lessons learned libraries, cases studies and perhaps even archived online Q&A forums. Tacit knowledge by definition cannot be codified, and therefore can only be shared through direct personal interactions.

I would contend that relationships formed solely through ESN interactions, or in fact any electronic systems like chat, email, etc. would be substantially weaker than those generated through regular face to face interactions. Complex tacit knowledge would need frequent and regular human interactions. It is unlikely that the strength of tie required, to effectively share complex knowledge, can be achieved solely through commonly available digital systems. What the ESN’s can do effectively is to help identify who you should be targeting as a knowledge sharing partner. Of course this situation is changing rapidly, as more immersive collaboration experiences are developed. But right now for codified knowledge, yes; for tacit knowledge, not yet