Knowledge Collaboration: The New Business Paradigm
by Larry Freed
Most big companies have a knowledge management platform and a collaboration tool in place. While these are both important technologies, what’s needed in the modern workforce is to bridge the gap between the two and achieve real knowledge collaboration.
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The Rise of Knowledge Work
Knowledge itself has never been more imperative to companies’ bottom lines.
The number of knowledge workers (or “learning workers” as Jacob Morgan calls them) is increasing at a faster rate than ever before, yet employees struggle with sharing knowledge effectively, spending an estimated 20% of their time just looking for internal information and spend an average of 13 hours a week on email alone (the source for both stats is McKinsey). Companies in the Fortune 500 lose $30 billion a year when employees fail to share knowledge effectively.
Moreover, a learning and development study showed that 69% of employees prefer to learn from a boss or mentor and 55% prefer to turn to their peers (source: HBR); only 17% learn from the company’s intranet and only 21% from the HR team.
We need more information to do our jobs than ever before. Yet, a few key work trends make a knowledge worker’s life more difficult than ever before:
- Knowledge itself is changing, and we demand more of it to do our job functions.
- Company sizes are ballooning and growing and the number of transnational corporations is at an all time high.
- Technologies like Facebook, Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Yammer require people to closely monitor them and participate in order to see value, taking up a lot of work time even as they provide value.
- More workers are working remotely and the average tenure of an employee is much shorter than ever before, which makes collaboration and institutional knowledge difficult to manage.
In the last few years, there have traditionally been two ways to solve these challenges: knowledge sharing tools and collaboration platforms.
We propose a third alternative: knowledge collaboration.
Knowledge management is:
- A one-way information exchange, usually one-to-many, and the information is broadcast to employees and/or accessible through a search.
- A method of disseminating information through some sort of announcement or bulletin; knowledge is pushed not pulled through the company.
Most companies tend to use two main kinds of knowledge management technologies or techniques to address these issues:
- Knowledge management platforms like Microsoft Sharepoint or wikis, often with social capabilities.
- Meetings and company announcements.
While these traditional knowledge management techniques definitely have their place in today’s workplace, they have a few challenges:
- The responsibility is placed on the identified subject matter experts to spread knowledge.
- Subject-matter experts (SMEs) gather information and knowledge (and must know where the needs and gaps are), and then the organization’s job is to broadcast it effectively.
- Employees need to absorb it and remember where it is or how to find it.
Knowledge management is more like the town crier shouting information to the masses and less about smart people working together to identify solutions and relevant, up-to-date information.
We need Sharepoint and wikis in our enterprises, but as the new world of work brings never-before-seen demands and opportunities to today’s workers, our method of handling knowledge must adapt as well. We need something more flexible, dynamic, responsive, and collaborative.
Let’s talk for a moment about collaboration tools like Slack, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams.
These can be quite effective when you have a small team with well-established communication patterns. However, these platforms are built for collaboration more than knowledge management, and there are a few specific challenges:
- They require a lot of time and engagement to be beneficial. If you snooze alerts for a half day, it’s easy to miss critical information, and it’s almost impossible to catch up on what you’ve missed.
- They get quite noisy and busy, with status updates, project statuses, NCAA brackets, and dozens or even hundreds of channels to monitor.
- They don’t encourage engagement and connection between people who don’t already know each other and work together, and there’s no evidence they facilitate high-quality connections, new mentorships, or equal access to company experts.
- They don’t necessarily make it easy for shy people or “outsiders” to gain access to insiders, leaders, and peers.
- There are no metrics on how much time or money is saved people through increased efficiency or on changes to networks and social capital because of the tools.
- Since they tend to enable and encourage direct messages, many exchanges of help occur in private, where people don’t get to learn from what happens.
Slack and Teams can add value; in fact, our team here at Give and Take uses both. But they are general-purpose tools that can be helpful with small teams and they struggle to be as useful with large-scale knowledge exchange without also costing a lot of time. Moreover, leaders too often use these tools to solve a wide variety of challenges that they weren’t really built to do.
Introducing Knowledge Collaboration
In addition to managing ideas, we should be inspiring ideas.
Instead of just collecting information, we should provide an interactive way for new knowledge to be built through collaboration or uncovered in employees other than the “experts.”
While we collaborate on projects, we need to find a way to connect employees in different places and on different teams.
We need to keep Sharepoint and wikis and supplement them with crowd-sourced information that gives every employee equal access to experts and mentors, and spreads the responsibility of expertise among a wider stable of people. We need to use Slack, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams for their intended purpose–small team collaboration, instant messaging, and project updates. They are not suited for knowledge collaboration, building or sustaining a culture of generosity and innovation, encouraging equal access to leaders and peers, or saving time.
What the modern workplace needs is a hybrid of knowledge management and collaboration platforms.
In other words, it’s time for knowledge collaboration.
What is knowledge collaboration?
- An interactive exchange of information that empowers many people to ask questions and have answers.
- Diverse idea generation, because you don’t have to find the expert- you get a little bit out of everyone.
- Exposes the organization to new perspectives and uncovers hidden resources in the network of the workplace.
- Shares the workload of being the expert and harnesses the collective intelligence of the group.
- Actively builds high-quality relationships, networks, and social capital while solving real business problems.
If knowledge management is the town crier, knowledge collaboration is the world’s best-run town hall meeting- one that engages and inspires every community member to step up and offer some way they could improve the town according to their own interests and abilities.
How does knowledge collaboration serve the new world of work?
Dispersing information laterally through a network instead of top-down activates the autonomy of individual employees as they realize they can contribute even if they aren’t the “expert” on the matter. This kind of collaboration has a proven impact on business results. It also lessens the burdens on the identified experts to spend so much of their time helping others. It redistributes the “helping” responsibility among a broader group of people.
As a bonus, giving employees access to the collective intelligence of their peers also increases trust between employees and builds stronger relationships throughout the entire organization, even when the workers aren’t seeing each other face-to-face each day. It also gives employees who may not always feel part of the “in-crowd” (because of race, gender, experience, location, or a host of other factors) an equal opportunity to tap leaders, peers, and mentors and get the same insights, advice, and knowledge that everyone else has access to at the water cooler.
To learn more about how to build trust through true employee engagement practices, download our free ebook.Download the Ebook
How Can We Encourage Knowledge Collaboration?
One way is by using Givitas, a knowledge collaboration platform created by professors and social scientists at the University of Michigan and Wharton School of Business.
They designed Givitas to fill the gap identified by so many enterprises between knowledge management and collaboration.
Givitas is a web-based platform that was built for the sole purpose of asking for and offering help.
No project updates, no pictures of breakfast, no NBA final picks.
Just requests for and offers of help. It turns out when you make it surprisingly easy to request and offer help at work, people are surprisingly generous.
Givitas is purpose-built for the exchange of ideas, advice, connections, knowledge, experience, and examples.
What is Givitas?
Givitas is a purpose-built SaaS platform that gives employees equal access to the collective intelligence, knowledge, experience, and expertise of their peers in a way that makes it easy, safe, fast, and productive.
- Research has proven that connecting employees in this way (asking for and offering help) has organizational and individual benefits:
- Organizational benefits include making employee more effective, efficient, innovative, agile, and overall better performers. Givitas boosts your business and improves your culture.
- Individual benefits of asking for and offering help include making employees more fulfilled, happier, engaged, satisfied, and even healthier.
- Givitas is designed to create a safe environment for asking for help, make it easy to be a giver on less than 5 minutes a day, and build work networks.
- Employees use Givitas to ask for and offer help, advice, a connection or introduction, a resource or template, information, company policies, an idea or brainstorm, a needed skill or ability, vendor suggestions, best practices, and more.
- The public nature of Givitas reinforces asking and giving while spreading knowledge broadly (as opposed to doing most asking and giving in private channels). It also helps solve the problem of not knowing who to ask for help.
- Improves efficiency, finds answers, and solves problems faster
- Givitas integrates with Slack, allowing employees to get notification, alerts and the full text of requests within Slack, where they are already spending time.
Givitas in Action: A Few Examples
Leadership development: A multinational insurance company used Givitas to connect a geographically distributed intrapreneur and mentor group, with the goal of building high-quality connections, management knowledge, and encouraging new ideas. In the example below, a leader was looking for advice on how to bring collaboration, and transparency to her team.
Givitas in Action: Givitas allowed her to cross silos and geography to get meetings with four colleagues in other areas of the business who had experience with these issues. The meetings provided inspiration and information critical to her leadership practice and her team’s experience and engagement with the company.
Here’s another example.
Sales Support and Acceleration: A new regional manager at a software company needed advice for a sales pitch to a potential client in an unfamiliar industry.
Givitas in Action: She got four offers from people in sales, product, and marketing, giving her important insight to help close the deal and reducing the impact on one internal “expert” who used to always be the go-to for all questions, freeing that person up to focus more on her own sales.
A final example:
Best Practices Needed: In a Givitas Ring of HR professionals, someone asked for advice on using personality tests during the hiring process.
Givitas in Action: He got five replies, including specific recommendations, and also contacts with five professionals who had rolled out similar projects who he could contact for more information.
He was able to use the recommendations in Givitas as a shortlist, and after speaking offline with a few of the people who offered help in Givitas, make a decision that was best for his company.
These are just three of thousands of examples happening in Givitas every day. Organizations, academic institutions, nonprofits, and associations are using Givitas in these kinds of situations:
- To connect groups with the same function, such as sales, support, etc.
- Association members
- Students, faculty, or alumni
- Post-merger teams
- Geographically distributed and virtual teams
- Cross-functional groups like management and leadership teams, innovation groups, etc.
- On-boarding and new employee orientation groups
- Affinity groups for inclusion initiatives
How Givitas Integrated with Other Tools
Givitas is not meant to replace existing tools like Sharepoint, Slack, or Teams.
Instead, Givitas is instead an important complement designed specifically to encourage and facilitate asking for and giving help. Slack, Teams and Sharepoint are not designed to encourage asking for and offering help, gratitude or connection, so you’ll need additional features, functions, and capabilities in order to elicit those behaviors and benefits.
- Givitas has unique features and functionality designed to build networks, improve culture, and boost efficiency that other tools don’t have.
- Givitas offers metrics and analytics on usage, time and money saved, changes to the network relationships, and more, which Slack and SharePoint do not offer.
- Givitas provides provides the ability to sort and filter by request date, whether a request is open or closed, does or doesn’t have any offers, when it’s needed, and by #hashtag keywords, as well as a searchable, crowd-sourced organizational memory not available reliably today in Slack, Yammer, Teams, or SharePoint.
- Givitas technology is backed by academic research and the work of Dr. Adam Grant in his top-rated TED Talk and bestselling book Give and Take, proving that asking for and offering help drives individual and organizational success.
- General-purpose platforms like Slack, Yammer, and Teams tend to be busy and noisy, and it’s very easy for genuine requests for help to get lost in the clutter.
- Employees are often unwilling to ask for help in a general-purpose platform, while research shows far more willingness to do so when they are given a purpose-built tool that encourages them to ask for help, offer help, show gratitude, and make connections. It just feels safer to ask for help in a purpose-built platform.
When Givitas integrates with many tools like Slack, Yammer, and Teams, your employees can engage with Givitas where they already spend their time.
Givitas makes it easy for everyone to see when there is a request, boosting speed and efficiency.
Learn More about Givitas
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If you’d like to learn more about how to implement the principles that Adam Grant shared in his TED Talk or in his bestselling book, Give and Take: Why Helping Other Drives Our Success, we have a free ebook that might be of interest.Download the Ebook
About the Author
As founding President and CEO of Give and Take, Inc., Larry Freed works with co-founders Wayne Baker, Cheyrl Baker, and Adam Grant to provide solutions that increase efficiency while building better workplaces. He is the author of the bestselling Innovating Analytics and Managing Forward.