Most of us want to collaborate more effectively with our colleagues, but it’s hard to get away from this sense that it isn’t something that comes particularly naturally, nor indeed that it’s something that occurs often enough within our companies. Indeed, the annual IBM CEO study found that 53% of executives would like their companies to collaborate better than they currently do.
So what’s stopping you from collaborating? Here are four possible obstacles to collaboration.
Obstacle 1 – Not invented here
I’m sure you’ve come across this one in your professional life, because so many companies are riddled with siloes, be they functional, regional or even hierachical. These siloes are increasingly given operational autonomy as bosses attempt to make their companies more agile and adaptive. That’s great, except it can create a barrier, be it mental or physical, between that silo and the rest of the company. As an example, many bosses find it difficult to accept ideas or input from people not on the same level as them. It’s a classic example of a hierachical silo, but it ensures that ideas seldom flow up the company.
Obstacle 2 – Knowledge hoarders
This one is another that is sadly commonplace, and in many instances it is merely a natural consequence of the kind of companies we’ve created, and importantly the pay and renumeration strategies we’ve adopted. Most companies have pay that is geared around individual achievement. The performance management and appraisal systems can also fall into this trap and judge performance on individual metrics, all of which does little to encourage people to share knowledge with their peers. If your success relies upon how successful you are as an individual rather than how successful the group is collectively, then collaboration will remain a challenge.
Obstacle 3 – Complex knowledge
In knowledge management you have tacit and explicit forms of knowledge. The explicit kind is simple to codify or document, and thus easy enough to share with others. The tacit kind can be much fuzzier, and whilst often a key component of our expertise, is much harder to share with others. As a cyclist, the classic example is riding a bike. Most of us know how to do it, but explaining how we do it is not so easy. Therefore transfering that knowledge between two parties can require excellent relations between the two because it can take longer to achieve. An apprenticeship is a classic example of such a relationship. If your employees tend to have weak ties with each other however, the transfer of tacit knowledge becomes much harder.
Obstacle 4 – Hidden knowledge
When you think about the amount of knowledge each employee in your company has, and then compare that to the amount of knowledge they use on a regular basis, the difference is probably quite significant. If you can tap into that ‘hidden’ knowledge it could give you a significant competitive advantage. The problem of course is that most companies don’t know what hidden knowledge lurks within them. Mining the knowledge employees have is of course merely half of the battle, for it’s then crucial that people are able to find the right experts to help them with the problem they have. If you don’t know that knowledge exists, or you don’t know how to find it, then it makes collaboration pretty much impossible.
These are the four biggest barriers to collaboration in my opinion. How many do you recognise from your own workplace?