Monday, March 26, 2007

Pinpointing Behavour that Blocks Collaboration

We've all see it or experienced it - sarcasm, negative / destructive humour, belittling, and a whole host of things people do, for any number of reasons, to block collaboration.

Collaboration, which in many respects amounts to co-creation, requires a trusting environment where people involved feel free to generate and share ideas, give each other useful feedback, and make decisions that move towards shared outcomes. The early stages of the collaborative process involve a certain degree of personal vulnerability, when the people involved are generating, tabling and discussing "half baked" ideas. I've seen many people disengage in meetings and workshops when their contributions are criticized, or using destructive humour, ridiculed without ever exploring the possibilities inherent in those ideas.

Robert Hargrove wrote a very useful and readable exploration of collaboration in Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration. On Page 67 he maps out the behavioural/attitudinal differences between what he calls the "collaborative model" (appreciative, active listening and learning, balancing advocacy with inquiry, empowering) and the "self-oriented" model (pursues own agenda, seeks to win and control others, a "know-it-all").

This I find is very closely linked to relationship intelligence and facilitative leadership.

So, besides the obvious, how do you know when you are faced with someone who is engaging in very uncollaborative behaviours? I think Bob Sutton's Blog entry on Rob Cross on Energizers vs. De-energizers has it nicely pegged - basically, ask yourself how you feel after the interaction. It could also be a good question to ask of ourselves as well.

Bob Sutton has also explored the topic of collaboration in the context of Building the Civilized Workplace, and his somewhat "pithy" book The No Asshole Rule. Check out his short video lesson at

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Social Media - Return on Investment or Return on Influence

A friend and former colleague Mark Blevis has gone through an interesting personal transformation over the last four years or so. I've always known him to be a thoughtful, bright, intellectually curious, outgoing individual, and a perpetual, lifelong learner. In about 2003 or so, he started experimenting with social media in general, and podcasting in particular, and his development into what I'd call an "expert" has been outstanding.

I encourage you to visit his site at

Which takes me to "Return on Influence" I was looking through Mark's list of accomplishments, and came across reference to a conversation he's started on a new web site ( with Steve Hardiman. They briefly touch on topics like shared potential by producers and consumers, abandoning traditional return on investment metrics, and that social "currency" can't be treated like, or thought of like cash.

Interesting.... I hope they continue the line of thinking.

On the topic, I came across Joe Marchese's blog post titled ROI Is Social Media’s New ROI. Although written with the marketing/advertising space in mind, he does talk about return on influencing requiring more investment in the creative side v.s. the production / distribution side.

Joe's last paragraph in the blog states: "The takeaway is this: if all advertisers are looking at is immediate return on investment, there is a good chance they are missing the real potential for maximizing their investment in social media — and probably spending way too much in the process. But it’s not the advertiser’s fault entirely; the platform hasn’t been built that efficiently facilitates accessing the type of brand-building influence offered by social media … yet."

Obviously, the same is true for private and public sector organizations. And like any good discussion, good answers create more good questions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Facilitation - At The Root of it All

I've been thinking about the concept of "knowledge-conscious managers" for a while, though I don't recall exactly what triggered the line of thinking.

It could be an article I read on the Mospos blog titled The 18 commandments of Knowledge-conscious managers

It could be an Inside Knowledge Magazine piece titled A Knowledge Conscious Curriculum.

Perhaps it was a Knowledgeboard discussion I participated in titled Exact role of Knowledge Manager and some very thoughtful comments by Frank Guerino, CEO & Founder TraverseIT.

Nonetheless, if you subscribe to the notion that knowledge management is just good management, then the perspectives and behaviours suggested in discussions and articles about knowledge conscious managers resembles to me what I've read about facilitative leadership.

For example, in The Art of Facilitative Leadership: Maximizing Others’ Contributions by Jeffrey Cufaude, facilitative leadership is described as:

  • making connections and helping others make meaning
  • providing direction without totally taking the reins
  • managing content and process
  • inviting disclosure and feedback to help surface unacknowledged or invisible beliefs, thoughts, and patterns
  • focusing on building the capacity of individuals and groups to accomplish more on their own, now and in the future

I see strong similarities and connections with many of the concepts of knowledge-conscious management, and ultimately I think it all boils down to managers doing whatever is required to facilitate effective knowledge work, as defined by roles and responsibilities in organizational context. This strikes me as being a very inclusive approach covering everything from making information easier to create, capture and access, to improving group and team interpersonal effectiveness and collaboration though the explicit, systematic facilitation of group processes.

Therefore, if you subscribe to the notion that a manager's role is to facilitate knowledge work, than facilitation as a fundamental mind set, and a key core competency, has even greater importance in today's knowledge based organizations than even the facilitation community has been promoting well over the last fifteen years. Perhaps organizational management and leadership development programs need to explicitly identify, bundle, include and emphasize facilitation and other knowledge-conscious/facilitative leadership capability development opportunities.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nuturing Communities of Practice - Adult Learning Applies

I was in a meeting with colleagues recently discussing the lack of participation in a community of practice. At one point I asked "Given that the community presents a tremendous opportunity for people to tap into collective intelligence to solve problems and overcome challenges, how come no one is tabling issues and asking for assistance?"

One of the answers I got was was that "people afraid to admit mistakes, and be perceived as anything but competent." Which tells me that the community space/conversations are not perceived as safe/healthy learning space. It could also be that members are used to working in a [perceived] fault intolerant cultural environment, and think it extends to the community space as well.

It goes without saying that a fault tolerant, collaborative environment is required for learning and innovation. In their 2002 HBR article titled "The Failure Tolerant Leader",
Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes mention that this type of leader is someone ".. who, through their words and actions, help people overcome their fear of failure and, in the process, create a culture of intelligent risk taking that leads to sustained innovation. These leaders don’t just accept failure; they encourage it. They try to break down the social and bureaucratic barriers that separate them from their followers. They engage at a personal level with the people they lead. They avoid giving either praise or criticism, preferring to take a nonjudgmental, analytical posture as they interact with staff. They openly admit their own mistakes rather than covering
them up or shifting the blame.And they try to root out the destructive competitiveness built into most organizations."

A very clear connection here between the way community leaders need to be in order to lead communities, and the level of of community participation.

The other thing that struck me for some reason, and I'm not sure why it took so long, was the connection between communities and adult learning as I was introduced to by former colleague and friend Brian Keane back in the mid '80s.

If we look at some of the key characteristics of adult learners, referring to Malcolm Knowles work on andragogy, they certainly apply to communities as learning opportunities.

  • Adult learners are experienced, and use experiences as an anchor point for new learning. Experiences can also be a barrier to learning something completely new and different.
  • Adults are generally autonomous and self-directed - they want relevant learning (it's got to meet their needs), and want to have a certain amount of influence or control over the learning content, approach, and evaluation.
  • When they provide feedback on learning programs (or even work environment topics in the workplace) they expect some form of action / result.
  • While adult learners may comply with "Mandatory" training, enthusiasm is seen when they choose their own topics / learning.
  • Adults are reluctant to be vulnerable in group settings, and often fear that their reputation, ego and self-esteem can be at risk if they admit to learning needs unless the learning environment is very safe.

So, it would appear that community facilitators should keep adult learning in mind when designing community structure / process/ environments that support and encourage learning.