Is Working Together Harmful to Your Organization?

sandbox1I was behind on my reading when I stumbled upon an article in April’s Harvard Business Review, titled: “When Internal Collaboration is Bad for Your Company.” My immediate reaction was to buy up every copy and hide it from my leadership team. As I read the article, I understood the point Morten T. Hansen was making…essentially that sometimes collaboration takes up too much time and in fact eats into your opportunity cost of doing a project.

One of his main arguments is that forcing people to work across silos will only lead to turf wars and the time to tear down those silos will kill a project. That could be true but if you never attempt to tear down walls, those walls will grow higher and higher and stronger and stronger until one day, they will never come down.  Is that really a good operational strategy? 

I am really anti-silo. I believe that roles and responsibilities and domains should be clearly established within an organization to prevent turf wars in the first place. Oftentimes, to make a project or initiative successful, multiple domains need to work together. This is why allowing kids to play in the sandbox together is so important. Adults have to do the same thing in real life, and we are not great at it.  (Maybe we only fought over whose bucket the blue one was in our sandboxes.)

Hansen states that asking how can we get people to collaborate more is the wrong question. That instead, we should ask: Will collaboration create or destroy value? Value is exactly right. I agree that more collaboration does not necessarily equate to more value but I have yet to see a time where one person in his cubicle had all the answers.

Maybe not everything needs a cross-functional team assigned to move it forward but, at a minimum, sharing ideas and allowing others to have input will help manage change! That is something Hansen does not talk about in his article. Sometimes, collaboration isn’t all about the bottom line, although you can certainly set up measures to try and determine that. Collaboration is getting people to play in the sandbox, building off of one person’s idea and thinking through all the possible implications to a decision.  To me, that is invaluable.

Where Does the Corporate University Fit in?

4handsWhen I started my career in the Corporate Communication field more than 15 years ago, the hot debate was how can Corporate Communication and Human Resources, namely Training & Development, work together. Each function has a communication element to it. Obviously, Corporate Communication’s sole purpose is to communicate with the media, investor community, customers and, of course, employees. It was that employee communication arena that led to some turf wars back in the day. As I migrated into the Training & Development field, the attention turned to this newly formed function called Knowledge Management.

Today, there is confusion over how Corporate Universities and Knowledge Management & Collaboration functions interact. Where is the line drawn? Does KM “own” social networking or does that it better into a university model? Are we on the brink of another turf war or already in it?

Maybe. I see companies struggling with defining roles in this area. Learning & Development professionals attend conferences from ASTD and ISPI and learn all about how they should leverage social collaboration tools to further learning efforts. Knowledge Management professionals attend KM World and Gartner conferences to learn how they should leverage social collaboration tools to further knowledge sharing efforts.

Who’s right? They both are. I would argue that corporate universities should not “own” the administration or governance behind collaboration tools. While they can be used for learning purposes, they are also used for sharing and finding knowledge and information and increasing efficiencies in work processes…something much more aligned to the Knowledge Management function.

Some companies combine the KM and L & D functions to ensure alignment; however, that may or may not be necessary. Regardless, the silo that can exist between these two areas must be torn down and real conversations about where certain information gets stored (team workspaces, university website or other content management system) plus who will administer social networking and collaboration must be defined together.

In my opinion, corporate universities need to be the internal customers of the Knowledge Management team and consumers of this technology for their purposes…perhaps even champions or early adopters. These two groups need to clearly define roles, responsibilities and accountabilities accordingly. Otherwise, you could have two teams working on the same initiative in a vacuum, which leads to more turf wars!