Collaboration & Knowledge Management
In a simpler world, we would create communities of top experts to collaborate with one another to advance their expertise to the cutting edge of their field.
If you’ve tried this, you know this only works if the community is exclusively for the top experts. It has to feel private, special, and a reward for their perceived level of expertise. That usually means a really small group which only benefits the experts, not the hosts.
This works as much on the fear of missing out as it does on a true belief to advance the field.
Experts are hard to reach (unless they consider you a true peer), hard to captivate, and hard to solicit regular contributions from. Experts often see fellow experts as rivals for a limited share of attention. They’re more likely to argue from a defensive position on the minutia of what one another has proposed. Worse yet, when a bigger opportunity appears for them to share their expertise, they tend to vanish.
The idea of creating a communities of experts is alluring, but in most cases impossible to create. You can waste a lot of time, money, and effort trying.
Far better to create a community of practice. Find a group of people who truly enjoy the topic, who truly want to help each other, and are doing the work every single day. Forget the experts and influencers. Unite a group of people who don’t know the answers, but will scour the web for one another looking for the answers.
Good questions trump good answers by a long way. Dull questions solicit dull responses. Good questions drive engagement and activity. You don’t need more experts, you need more people with good questions. People get more value from a committed group of equals, people enjoy participating more in a group of equals, and it’s far easier to build these communities.
Let the experts stop by if they want, but don’t focus on them.
Given the choice between trying to recruit people who know the answer or trying to recruit people who would love to find the answer, go with the latter…every single time.
Most information in organisations (or brand communities) is shared from the perspective of the creator, not the recipient.
The creator publishes an article about a topic s/he finds interesting. The timing, length, format, and target audience (everyone) all suit the creator. Which is exactly why it’s soon forgotten by the target audience.
Successful knowledge sharing efforts provide the right people with the specific information they need at the exact moment they need it in the format that suits them.
This usually means every team member needs to know:
- What information to share. If we’re working on writing a new consultancy report, it would be useful to have examples of previous reports. Which means we need to share this report when it’s complete. Any time we regret not having a template to work from, we need to share the template we’re creating. Equally important is to share only the essential information. Too much information becomes unwieldly and demotivating to sift through. This also means pruning the information which is never used.
- When to share this information. Too often information is shared once it’s been created instead of when it’s needed. A document shared too early is rarely recalled and used. We need to embed the document within a process by which it’s delivered to the receiver when s/he needs it. A checklist with links to relevant, updated, documents works well here.
- With whom to share this information. At the United Nations we used to receive ‘Addendum to Addendum 3.2’ messages containing entirely irrelevant information to the projects we were working on at that moment. These emails mattered a lot to a small number of people. Finding those people is hard.
- How to share this information. Slack might be a great tool for deliberation, triggering processes or fixing gaps in the process, but it’s not the best tool for sharing useful information (neither is email). PDFs, white papers, video training classes, workshops, books, podcasts, guest speakers can be equally useful tools.
- Why they share information. More information is lost to apathy than retirement. People simply aren’t motivated to share what they need. Either they aren’t personally motivated (belief in the group mission, desire to help, finds the topic interesting) or professionally rewarded (recognition, promotion, salary increases) to share what they have discovered.
Too many discussions begin by asking the creators what they want, they should begin by asking the recipients what they need.