The importance of optimising collaboration activities to support your business imperatives
How many hours do you spend in meetings every week? 5, 10 or even 20 hours? And how often do you feel that these hours are just a waste of your time? Managers and executives easily spend up to half their time in meetings and the average leader also spends multiple hours preparing for these meetings. That doesn’t leave much time for getting work done, does it? This form of scarcity, lack of time, actually steals mental capacity and narrows our time frame, causing us to make impulsive, short-term decisions. In other words, lack of time leads to losses in both bandwidth and intelligence.
Organisations often have an over-reliance on face-to-face meetings and it is easy to understand why. Scheduling meetings for discussing problems make it feel like you are making progress. Organisations also continuously face the challenges in capturing and distributing accumulated knowledge. Most organisations have a need for high knowledge shareability, but are stuck with a low level of knowledge retention. These challenges have caught our interest and we at Influence believe that organisations need to start thinking differently when it comes to knowledge exchanges.
There are different forms of knowledge exchanges and to become successful, organisations must increase their ability to navigate between these. But maybe even more importantly, these different knowledge exchanges must be optimised in every given situation.
A simple matrix for optimising modern teams’ knowledge exchanges – KEM
At the core of all knowledge exchanges lies the Collective Intelligence* of the involved participants. However, beyond the level of Collective Intelligence, knowledge exchanges vary in type of collaboration and level of knowledge shareability.
When people interact in real time, physically or digitally, we say that the collaboration is synchronous. The opposite is asynchronous collaboration, i.e. interactions with a delay in time and independent of social presence.
Knowledge shareability is dependent on the format of the knowledge (tacit or explicit), its retention and the available distribution channels. Documents stored on an open digital platform is for example much more shareable than an oral project update during a business lunch.
What became apparent to us when discussing the knowledge exchange challenges for a leading global high-tech organisation was that by simply putting each of these two aspects on an axis, a Knowledge Exchange Matrix (KEM) could be created, shown in the picture above.
Characteristics of the four different knowledge exchange situations
Each quadrant of the Matrix represents approaches beneficial for certain situations. Naturally, no approach is perfect but we have listed some success factors for each quadrant for you to aim for when maximising the chosen approach appropriate for your purpose.
- Synchronous & low shareability
The most traditional approach to knowledge exchange, e.g. gatherings such as meetings, presentations, live trainings and workshops. These gatherings can create strong experiences and allow for direct feedback. However, their downsides are that they require a high participator presence, are not always optimal for all types of content and that they are exclusive for those present.
Success factors: Always make sure the meeting has a clear purpose and goals, is well prepared and has an appointed leader. Have an agenda involving everyone attending to make the most out of everyone’s time and be clear on what’s being decided and how it is to be followed up. End the meeting with reflection to ensure collective learning.
- Synchronous & high shareability
Meetings or other real-time gatherings being recorded and made available for a larger audience than the one present at the actual gathering. This reduces the need for meeting participation and allows meetings to become much more than just a meeting, e.g. a presentation that is easily shared globally. However, this approach does demand a certain level of technology readiness, can make some participants uneasy and simply doesn’t suite certain forms of sensitive knowledge exchanges, e.g. due to sensitivity or format of recorded knowledge.
Success factors: Establish trust towards recorded media and comfortability when recording. Have specific places for storing, enabling recordings being easily findable. Be aware of that you might need clarifications for those watching afterwards.
- Asynchronous & low shareability
Traditional note-taking, regular mail or even self-destructing messages. This form of knowledge exchange can be useful for specific occasions, e.g. formal invites or small audiences, where it can add to an impression or experience. It might also be beneficial when a certain level of security is needed. Nevertheless, these, likely physical, materials are often less applicable/useful since they cannot be searched or computer analysed. They are also difficult to convert and back-up possibilities are more cumbersome and not available per default.
Success factors: Ensure that the approach of asynchronous with low retention really is right for the specific purpose and receiving parts – it is rarely the optimal form of communication in today’s modern society.
- Asynchronous & high shareability
Modern digital collaboration technologies normally performed through web 2.0 technologies, e.g. through digital communities, team communication tools or digital Kanban boards. These enable increased transparency, greater accumulation of knowledge as well as easier and broader use of the accumulated knowledge. Used correctly, participation costs will be reduced and flexibility is increased as participants can optimise when to join in. Disadvantages linked to this approach are that it isn’t always optimal for relationship building, does not suite all messages, can lack directness in feedback and is technology reliant.
Success factors: Align strategy, structure and culture. Use strategy as the foundation and include both business and IT in structure. Focused change management when developing structure and culture helps achieve appropriate adoption and behaviour across your organisation.
Optimise your approach for the desired outcome
It is time for organisations to start thinking about diverse ways to collaborate and adjust appropriately to reach desired results. It is likely that you need a mix of the approaches presented in the Knowledge Exchange Matrix above and not being over-reliant in one of the quadrants. A project, for example, can have short stand-up meetings every morning combined with a digital collaboration site and longer, recorded status meetings once a week.
Instead of just having more meetings, use KEM to design for interactions that better use everyone’s time, increase overall flexibility and improve knowledge integration in your organisation. Simply put, optimise your knowledge exchanges and you will improve the conditions for achieving your business imperatives.
How to optimise the lower right quadrant –asynchronous and high knowledge shareability – will be explored further in a future Point of View. Stay tuned!
Co-authors: Per Appelgren, Madelen Porserud, Fredrik Swahn
* Collective Intelligence: A model developed in research cooperation between Dr. Philip Runsten at Stockholm School of Economics and Influence AB, consisting of four abilities (relation, reflection, integration and representation) to be developed when improving collaboration and knowledge integration within teams