Sharing Knowledge in the New Year
Many of you may work with co-workers who guard the information they have like they are guarding the gold in Fort Knox. Perhaps they believe that if only they have specific information, they will become invaluable to the organization and receive immunity to layoffs. They may even intellectually understand the value of better collaboration, but the emotions of uncertainty in most jobs today can overpower what a person knows should be the best way for them to act.
Maybe one of your co-workers is more comfortable working on their own rather than as part of a team. Before blaming them, you may want to consider that at one time they were on a team in which other team members took advantage of them by letting them do all of the work while expecting the credit to be shared equally by all team members. When management condones this type of behavior or is just ignorant that it is occurring in the first place, better performing team members soon start to look for other ways to individually shine on tasks belonging to only them.
At the same time, management needs to become more aware of situations when all members of the team do not appear to participate. If management waits too long to act, the outstanding performers eventually realize that these other team members are consciously or unconsciously taking advantage of the work they are doing and they begin to withhold information. In a successful team, all team members must pull together. You cannot have a few members of the team pulling the sleigh while the rest sit on the sleigh and go along for the ride. (I just had to have a seasonal analogy.)
Does this mean that everyone has to be part of every single task? I fundamentally disagree with the notion that everyone in a team or department must know all aspects of everyone else’s job. A carpenter does not pretend to be an electrician and an electrician does not attempt to do the work of a plumber. Sure they may know a little about these other jobs, but they are not experts. So why does management assume that all IT staff are interchangeable? There are many specialties in IT just like in construction. A good manager encourages his/her team members to diversify their skills so they augment each other, not duplicate each other. No one person can be an expert in all areas of IT. However, everyone should be expected to be an expert in at least one area. Project teams should then be structured to make the best use of the specialties of each staff member. In such an environment, people may not feel like they have to protect the expertise they have developed on their own time to benefit others who are too lazy or unprofessional to develop an area of expertise on their own. In groups of true professions with different areas of expertise, collaboration and sharing of information makes the entire group greater than the sum of the individuals.
Another concern is the manager who does not share information with his/her direct reports. Sure there may be some information that should be retained at specific levels within the organization, but if a manager never shares information with their direct reports, they appear aloof and out-of-touch with their staffs. Furthermore, when workers only find out what is going on from their fellow co-workers who work for managers who are more open with sharing information, a lack of trust begins to develop. The team members begin to doubt that their manager considers them part of the larger team. At best, this could cause the team to become guarded in everything they say and do rather than freely share information. However, it could also encourage better performers to begin looking for other positions in the hope that they can work in a more ‘open’ environment.
Since it is New Year’s Day and a time for New Year’s resolutions, perhaps one of the resolutions you might want to consider is how to more openly communicate with your co-workers. If you have direct reports, do you share information with them on a regular basis, perhaps at weekly team meetings? How about the co-workers at your level? Do you regularly communicate with them about what you and your team are doing? Could you develop some synergism between groups by sharing information between groups rather than letting everyone work within their own silos?
And while you are evaluating your communication skills, think about how well you communicate at home with family, neighbors, and other people. I won’t even ask the question how many of you even know your neighbors on a first name basis, where they work, and what their interests are? Perhaps you could improve your communication by changing your perspective to see how others see you?
Change is hard. Improving collaboration in a time of cut-backs and downsizing can be even harder as the natural tendency of most workers is to guard information they have even tighter than before. Maybe it is time for management to show that they recognize and appreciate collaboration by rewarding those employees who share their knowledge and help mentor others rather than trying to be ‘fair’ by rewarding all employees equally which is anything but fair.
Well, New Year’s Day is a time for dreaming and wishing isn’t it?