It’s very likely that a handful of employees bring significant value to your company’s collaborative efforts. You may not know who these people are, but we guarantee your employees do. And that can be a problem—if collaboration is left unmanaged.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) reports that “In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees. As people become known for being both capable and willing to help, they are drawn into projects and roles of growing importance. Their giving mindset and desire to help others quickly enhances their performance and reputation.”
As word gets around, for example, that Michelle in Operations has a wealth of institutional knowledge, as well as a knack for making internal—and perhaps even external—connections that lead to valuable business outcomes, everyone wants a piece of her time. After she’s sat in several meetings and responded to email requests, she has no time left to do her own work.
As the HBR put it, “As well-regarded collaborators are overloaded with demands, they may find that no good deed goes unpunished… They take assignments home, and soon, according to a large body of evidence on stress, burnout and turnover become real risks.”
But the impact extends beyond individual collaborators to affect business operations on a larger scale as these key players become an integral part of more and more business processes. Top collaborators can actually become “institutional bottlenecks,” according to the HBR. “Work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in.”By minimizing the risk of too much collaboration, business leaders can protect high-value employees and the business.
The HBR identifies three types of “collaborative resources” that employees invest in others to create value. They are informational, social, and personal. Companies should look at how they can protect their top collaborators’ resources, and ensure that employees are using collaboration technologies—and using them properly.
Become a Connector, Not a Contributor
Often the most valuable knowledge a high-value collaborator possesses is knowing who to leverage when solving a problem or completing a project. But that doesn’t mean that that person also needs to be involved from start to finish. According to the 2016 Polycom Utilization Benchmark Report, up to 80% of people don’t realize video is available to them or don’t know they can use it. Ideally, top collaborators would make introductions face-to-face, then leave the meeting. When the employees who are being connected don’t work in the same space, the face-to-face nature of video allows colleagues to establish rapport than through email or even voice conversations.
If, in the course of the discussion it becomes evident that other employees should be involved, they can be easily pulled into the video meeting with the click of a button, thereby eliminating the need to have the same conversation repeatedly. As a result, both social and personal resources are used more effectively by everyone involved.
Facilitate Impromptu Collaboration to Distribute Institutional Knowledge
Face-to-face interaction is so important that the HBR advises: “When possible, managers should co-locate highly interdependent employees to facilitate brief and impromptu face-to-face collaborations, resulting in a more efficient exchange of resources.”
We agree—true creativity and innovation doesn’t happen in an email inbox. However, some companies may find that co-locating employees is impractical, if not impossible, due to the distributed and mobile nature of the workforce. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice valuable facetime. A video collaboration solution makes it easy for employees to still have those ad hoc face-to-face connections regardless of distance. It’s important, however, that employees have access to an enterprise-grade solution that eliminates presence disparity so that participants can stay focused on business and not on background noises or other distractions that can impact meeting productivity.
While ad hoc video calls can help employees exchange information more efficiently and reduce the strain on personal resources, they only help so much if employees reach out to collaborators any time and every time they have a need. Collaborators need a way to put some boundaries around their creative time so that they can focus on projects uninterrupted. This is where presence technology can help. When a top collaborator is unavailable, employees should look for other ways to get the information they need.
You would never barge in on a meeting happening in a conference room, and yet when we see a remote colleague’s status is “In a Meeting” we’re more prone to ask if they can also talk to us on an Instant Message platform, like Skype for Business. On the other side, if we’re losing focus on a conference call, it’s very tempting to go on mute and reply to that message. But with so much research showing the detrimental effects of multitasking, top collaborators are much better off letting those interruptions go unanswered. Not only will it make them more productive, but it also encourages the interrupters to be self-sufficient.
While it’s still impossible to clone your best employees, there are ways to increase the reach of their contributions. For example, when you allow them to record and distribute video conference calls. Perhaps it’s a training session or a previous meeting during which pertinent details were discussed. Employees should be encouraged to view these and other resources before they reach out to a colleague. And when these video libraries are tagged and easily searched, they can be more readily accessible than that over-extended top collaborator.
Finally, consider this advice: “It’s also worth suggesting that when [top collaborators] do invest personal resources, it be in value-added activities that they find energizing rather than exhausting. In studying employees at one Fortune 500 technology company, we found that although 60% wanted to spend less time responding to ad hoc collaboration requests, 40% wanted to spend more time training, coaching, and mentoring. After their contributions were shifted to those activities, employees were less prone to stress and disengagement.”
These preferences underscore the power of human connections. Ad hoc collaboration requests tend to be focused on getting something done, rather than building a relationship as they do when employees train, coach, and mentor each other. And the employees receiving the benefits of this professional relationship may be your next generation of top collaborators in the company.
Every organization has a subset of employees that are acting as a hub of collaboration and innovation within the organization. But when their institutional knowledge over-extends their time, you risk losing a very important contributor to your success. By leveraging collaboration technology and building a culture that inherently distributes that institutional knowledge throughout the organization you not only mitigate the risk of turnover but empower the entire workforce to collaborate and innovate.