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January 3, 2007 » 3:58 pm

Group Information Hygiene

Last August, I wrote:    (LPS)

When we founded BlueOxenAssociates, we were supposed to be a place for those on the cutting edge of collaboration. I quickly discovered that most people who want or claim to be on the cutting edge are held back by poor PersonalInformationHygiene. People need to start with themselves before they worry about the group if they want to improve their ability to collaborate. (This is a general theme that extends beyond KnowledgeManagement.)  T    (LPT)

Poor Personal Information Hygiene can often interfere with group trust, and trust is a prerequisite for good collaboration.    (LPU)

In an ideal world, everyone on your team would be masters of Personal Information Hygiene, but in reality, that’s rarely the case. Frankly, I’m not sure if it’s always desirable. People have different kinds of intelligences, and it may be that certain kinds of intelligences are critical to a high-performance team, but are also orthogonal to good Personal Information Hygiene.    (LPV)

Is it possible to have good Group Information Hygiene if people on a team have poor Personal Information Hygiene? Moreover, is it possible for the whole to be greater than the sum?    (LPW)

You all know what my answers are.    (LPX)

Part of the MGTaylor facilitation philosophy is to offload all potential distractions so that the participants may focus entirely on the task at hand. When you attend an MGTaylor Design Shop, there are several Knowledge Workers present, who are responsible for managing the distractions (among other things). They set up and reset the environment. They scribe your conversations. They manage the clock.    (LPY)

The philosophy is not exclusive to MGTaylor. The Aspen Institute follows a similar process. So do high-level politicians and actors in big-budget films, where their schedules are minutely managed so that they can focus entirely on acting… er, and policy-making. So do fancy restaurants. The food at Gary Danko in San Francisco is fantastic, but the service is unbelievable. There are literally six servers hiding in the shadows, anticipating your needs and making sure your table space is always pristine. Your glass is always full. Your napkin is always folded. If you’re about to go to the bathroom, a server will pull out your chair and point you in the right direction. Remarkably, they pull this off without being overbearing and creepy.    (LPZ)

We can debate whether or not this is always a good thing. (I think the answer is no.) We can certainly agree that this level of service is not always practical. What’s indisputable is that in a collaborative situation, these things need to be done by somebody. The question is by whom?    (LQ0)

The Sacrificial Lamb (stolen from Jim Coplien and Neil Harrison‘s SacrificeOnePerson pattern) is both a pattern and an antipattern. Most of us are familiar with it as an antipattern, where someone “takes one for the team” and essentially does someone else’s job because that other person isn’t doing it. (We discussed this in great detail at last year’s St. Louis Collaboratory workshop.)    (LQ1)

When it’s a result of broken trust, Sacrificial Lamb is short-term positive, because the job gets done, but it’s long-term negative because it hurts your working chemistry and often overloads your most productive team members. When it’s intentional and explicit, it’s net positive, because it’s not breaking any trust relationships. The essence of Jim and Neil’s pattern is that instead of dividing the necessary but dreary tasks among multiple peers, you designate one person as the Sacrificial Lamb and that person handles all of those tasks, at least for one cycle. You increase the likelihood of the tasks getting done and getting done well, and you increase the productivity of your other team members. If done right, the whole will be greater than the sum. The Knowledge Workers in the MGTaylor process are essentially Sacrificial Lambs.    (LQ2)

The role of the Sacrificial Lamb is most often to maintain good Group Information Hygiene. Project managers will find this role familiar. For example, when scheduling meetings, you send frequent reminders, both to compensate for others who are not good at maintaining their own calendars and to correct potential miscommunications. These tasks are laborious, but they’re necessary for High-Performance Collaboration.    (LQ3)

Collaboration can be a difficult thing to measure, but measuring Group Information Hygiene is relatively easy. I used metrics associated with Group Information Hygiene extensively with a client last year as one indication of the state of collaboration within the community and the potential for improvement in the future. Poor Group Information Hygiene is a natural obstacle to scale.    (LQ4)

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