Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Wiki? Part 2 - The Transparency Effect

Photo Credit: Dominion Coal and Wood Silos - from University of Western Ontario Libraries

One of the fastest ways to build trust and foster collaboration is to make everything visible. Complex organizations quickly become specialized and fragmented, creating isolated knowledge silos. Significant human effort and heroics are often required to bridge these gaps and maintain ongoing productivity.

How Dangerous Is Open?

In most organizations the tendency is to emphasize protection instead of knowledge sharing. Many systems start with out-of-the-box permissions that restrict everyone, allowing for manual overrides to allow individuals and groups to share content. Not only is this a sure recipe for clogging the knowledge arteries in an organization, it also tends to generate complex and unmanageable access matrices that introduce new risks and security holes themselves.

The reality for most information is:
  • Most people can't find it anyway, even when they have full access.
  • Generally, the benefits of sharing far outweigh the risk of abuse.
  • Having more eyes on information improves the potential for correction and ongoing value.
  • Overly restrictive environments encourage informal social sharing as people compensate to get the work done.
The Wiki Contribution

Wikis have a number of characteristics that balance these knowledge flow constrictions, creating transparency and visibility by:
  • Making it easy for everyone to publish content, so that there is something to see.
  • Using powerful search algorithms that combine content and behavior to "bubble up" the most relevant content - quickly.
  • Making it easy for everyone to link content, quickly creating associations across the enterprise.
  • Providing dynamic notification mechanisms that help people "stay aware" of what's going on, or discover helpful information automatically.
  • A visible and detailed audit trail helps reinforce peer accountability and productive behaviour.
Beyond the Wiki

Visibility is probably the most powerful accelerator for building trust and potential teamwork that we can directly influence. Having said that, there are scenarios where visibility is counterproductive:
  • Context Confusion. There are scenarios that are extremely sensitive, or strategically incubating where premature or sharing could cause significant confusion, or critical corporate risks. Timing and context are important leadership aspects for effectively communicating these issues.
  • Off the Record. A large amount of useful knowledge transfer happens through "off the record" sharing. This is often seen as a direct conflict to explicit knowledge capture and teamwork. However, this behavior is an essential component of social behavior and an effective knowledge sharing environment. Leaders need to foster a healthy "grapevine" communication channel in the organization to complement the more explicit mechanisms.
Culture Shock

It's time to take a hard look at the practices and culture. What changes can you make to begin to create a more open and visible environment? Don't wait too long, you can be sure your competitors are asking the same questions.

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