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February 26, 2007 » 11:41 am

Collaboration as a System

I spent this past Saturday in Sebastopol “tutoring” Gail Taylor, Todd Johnston, and Tiffany Von Emmel on online Collaborative Tools. I lured Matthew O’Connor into helping by boasting of Gail, Todd, and Tiffany’s deep thinking about and practice of collaboration.    (LVC)

One of our exercises was to walk through all of our respective digital workspaces, demonstrating how we read and wrote email, and worked with online tools. I had gotten some idea of how Matthew worked when we paired at the Wikithon earlier this month, but I was still blown away by his walkthrough. He’s really thought deeply about his work processes and has optimized his online workspace accordingly.    (LVD)

Matthew expressed surprise that he was the only one who had done this, especially since I had proclaimed these folks to be gurus. I didn’t have a chance to discuss this with him on Saturday, so I thought I’d post some thoughts about that here.    (LVE)

To be good at collaboration, you have to treat it as a system. That system includes things like communication, community, Knowledge Management, learning, and leadership.    (LVF)

Most Collaborative Tools companies are either in the communication or the Knowledge Management business. They’re usually selling pipes, PIMs, or document management tools. All of those things have something to do with collaboration, but they are not in and of themselves collaboration. Then again, no tools are. A hammer is a tool for hammering, but it is not itself hammering.    (LVG)

When I think about High-Performance Collaboration, I envision groups with excellent Group Information Hygiene. Ideally, you’d also like every member of the group to have outstanding Personal Information Hygiene (like Matthew), but it’s not a prerequisite. You’d like to see every member to be past a certain threshold of competence for all aspects of the system, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to be great at all those things. On a great basketball team, you’d like everyone to be in good shape and have good fundamentals, but some players are going to be superior shooters while others will be great rebounders. It’s not necessary, nor realistic, nor possibly desirable to have 12 Magic Johnsons on a team.    (LVH)

Implicit in my One Small Change post is that there is no one thing. I can think of a number of small, concrete changes that could result in significant improvements in collaboration. This is one of the main reasons why Pattern Languages — collections of named, concrete patterns — are fundamental to The Blue Oxen Way.    (LVI)

Personal Information Hygiene is a critical pattern, because it fosters trust. My advice to groups with trust issues would be to eschew squishy exercises and look at people’s Personal Information Hygiene instead. However, past a certain level, I don’t see great Personal Information Hygiene as being the primary hallmark of a great collaborator.    (LVJ)

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