Most modern companies are choking to death on documents, and my consulting work can sometimes feel like a hoarding intervention TV show. Employees at all levels know they are trapped in a reactive work world that is burning them out, but are trapped by circumstance into collaborating and therefore perpetuating the document and postal paradigms I discussed in my previous post on the state of Enterprise 2.0 white paper.
The historical corporate filing cabinets have largely been replaced by shared drives, team spaces, wikis, email attachment bandwidth etc, and digital data mostly replaces paper (although there is plenty of that piled up everywhere), but now, thanks to modern technologies, the core hoarding problem is on steroids.
Findability, easy in the Google/Bing powered greater internet, is largely opaque and fragmented in companies of all sizes, while knowledge hoarding exacerbates this problem, with information squirreled away in countless shared drives, team spaces and other repositories.
With Sharepoint 2010 now launched with vastly improved functionality compared to previous generations the burning question is whether it will ease the problem or exacerbate it.
My experiences and perceptions from the enterprise trenches are that most people are now aware, in an out of focus sort of way, that there are better ways of doing things out there somewhere, but that they are being held hostage by their colleagues set-in-their-ways information hoarding. Fight or Flight, Tend and Befriend
Most people are aware of our animal 'fight or flight' psychological triggers - our individual reactions to direct threats often involve substance abuse and withdrawal as well as the more obvious violent responses.
Our hoarding psychological equivalent is 'Tend and Befriend'. Humans have a tendency to affiliate and group together in difficult times, coalescing into social groups to fight off threats for survival and trust bonding.
Modern corporate life is rife with this mentality. Affiliation under stress is a survival mechanism where people group together under perceived threats, real or imagined. Concerns about layoffs and reorgs exacerbate this thinking for example, as does command and control hierarchical management, bizarrely opaque unilateral upper management decisions and so on.
While there is plenty of highly sophisticated collaborative software available, it is all too frequently used in a defensive 'Tend and Befriend' way, with groups and teams hoarding information based on mutual trust. This translates as many pockets of information with no consistent organizational structure, typically hidden from the larger enterprise whether deliberately or unthinkingly.
This results in workgroup teams building up a repository of important but disconnected information. This arrangement can work surprisingly well until individuals suddenly leave, whether through a lottery win, hit by a bus, laid off or getting a better job elsewhere etc, typically leaving with the metaphorical keys to the secret filing cabinets in their pocket.
The next step is frantic searches through obscure file hierarchies on shared drives by those remaining in desperate attempts to locate version 11 of the renamed Office document by date that someone remembered might be somewhere in a terrabyte or so of information in a sub folder called 'Go9ers2010' they used to use way back when... The Survivalists
Like the TV hoarders nothing ever gets thrown away, but once the original custodians are gone it just looks like a huge topography of unorganized stuff. 'Tend and Befriend' makes this an ongoing team trust activity but essentially the logic is the same regardless of number of players: this is our stuff and we'll only grant access to it if we trust you for job security reasons.
We think it's crazy when a postman hoards 12 years of mail in his garage but think nothing of equipping teams to do something remarkably similar in the corporate environment...
Adding layers of whizzy new technologies to this situation, no matter how slickly designed they are, typically results in a new generation of collaboration cell silos under new lock and key user names and passwords.
Like escaping email overload, emerging from offline document creation cultures requires some pretty serious overarching holistic action with clear intentions of what the goals are before you get anywhere near enabling technologies.
A medical analogy is a human body's arteries clogged with cholesterol - documents can slow otherwise dynamic organizations to a crawl, jeopardizing their health and survival. Findability and organization of information is critical to driving business performance in a complex global economy comprised of countless interacting business units.
Defining locations and taxonomies for structured and unstructured data, providing clear delineation of what is your personal lock box and how and where to share contextual information with colleagues at various levels is a first step in interventions to make businesses of all sizes collaborate more efficiently.
This reality is increasingly a key component of global competitiveness.