Writing for the Harvard Business Review blog network, Tammy Erickson talks about the role of organizational hubs to encourage and enhance collaboration. The “hub” is a person who curates what’s going on and both shares it more widely in the organization and also suggests connections for people who are seeking collaborative help:
“The very premise behind extended collaboration is that sharing information broadly will have benefits. But it creates a staggering need to document, codify, sort, scan, absorb and digest input from innumerable sources. Some are calling it information “toxicity.” One of the biggest challenges of successful collaboration within businesses is putting aside the idea that having more connections is automatically better and address the serious issue of enhancing connection productivity.
Think of the challenge of connection productivity as one of tipping the scales at the individual level. On one side of the scale is the cost to the individual of participating — the time required, the hassle involved if the system is cumbersome, and so on. On the other side is the payoff to the individual — new ideas gained, shortcuts learned. Progressive companies, searching for better ways to spread tacit know-how, need to find ways to tip the scales by decreasing the cost or increasing the return. Or both.
One promising approach is to designate hubs or cross-pollinators to synthesize input and provide relevant, timely output. These individuals act as bridges or connectors at critical intersections, charged with gathering pertinent information and transmitting either warnings or signals of opportunity rapidly across the organization.“
One of the early research findings about online/shared calendaring from the early-to-mid 1990s was this same idea of “it costs the individual but benefits the organization (specifically the manager).” This was noted as one reason why shared calendaring didn’t take off quickly – the unevenness of the cost/benefit.
In my own work – for example, see slides 52-61 in my Congres Intranet 2012 slide deck – I talk about raising the ceiling of value so you can get a broader perspective on the opportunities for collaboration. This can be done by a person with a higher view of what’s going on, either as a result of being further up the hierarchy and well-connected, or as a result of being in a specific role – per Tammy’s idea and the two examples in her article.
In summary, I like the pragmatism of Tammy’s idea – it gets the work done for the benefit of the organization, at a cost to the organization, rather than the individual bearing the cost and being taken away from his or her immediate value added work.