I spend a lot of time thinking about sharing, and sharing what I’m thinking. Why? I don’t quite know. Maybe it comes from having been born in Calcutta. Or maybe because I was (and still am) part of a large family. Or even maybe it’s because my father was a journalist as was his father, while my other grandfather was a professor.
Around eight months ago I wrote a post headlined Lazily Musing About Sharing. In it, I made the following assertions:
- For anything to be social, it must be shared
- Sharing, the act of making social, happens because people are made social
- Sharing is encouraged by good design
- When you share physical things like food, sharing reduces waste
- When you share non-physical things like ideas, sharing increases value
Since I wrote that post, I’ve been spending time observing how people share: my colleagues at salesforce.com, our customers, our partners, my personal and professional networks.
And coming to a number of hypotheses which I intend to share with you over the next few months….. depending, of course, on the kind of feedback I get on this post.
Here’s the first hypothesis:
When the shared purpose at work is itself to do with sharing, collaboration becomes part of the DNA
Why do I say this? For a number of reasons:
When I joined Salesforce.com one of the first things I noticed was that there was a culture of sharing, above and beyond the architecture of sharing that services like Chatter provide. People felt comfortable sharing things, it seemed to be in their very spirit. Was it because of something about the way we hired people? Was it because senior management set an example in leadership? Was it because we were still a relatively young company? Was it something in the air?
It seemed to be something deep-seated, something systemic. So I kept looking.
It may have been all of the reasons I stated earlier. I don’t know the precise reason, I’m still learning. But more and more I’m coming to the conclusion that it has to do with the principles the company was founded on, the principles we’ve adhered to since, which involve a new business model (subscriptions), a new technology model (the cloud)…..
….. and a new philanthropy model. 1+1+1.
I’d read about the Salesforce Foundation before I joined the company. I’d seen how people set aside time and effort and money to support the Foundation. I’d been very impressed by how central a role Foundation activities played in corporate life, not just at corporate events. I’d been pleasantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm shown by staff, customers and partners alike when it came to participating in Foundation events and activities.
More recently, I’d been overwhelmed by the support given to an initiative very close to my heart, Byte Night. 20 of my colleagues sleeping out with me. Over 300 individual donors supporting our team. Colleagues, customers, partners, the lot. All underpinned by the advice, guidance, support — and generous matching funds — from the Foundation.
And when I was awake, cold, dripping wet, that night, accompanied by my colleagues, I realised how deep the bonds were between those colleagues. How deep the bonds were between all of us as sleepers that night, regardless of where we worked.
The relationship between the level of collaboration at work and a collaborative worldview is by itself not new: Howard Rheingold has written about this many times; in his latest book he speaks of what Mimi Ito called “genres of participation”, some interest-driven, some friendship-driven. When people work together on philanthropic activities, I think these two genres come together, dramatically increasing the level of energy in the activity. Amy Jo Kim, in Community Building On The Web, emphasises the importance of giving people tools to build and operate their own subcommunities, to embed rituals in what they do, to have cyclic events. Christopher Locke spoke of the importance of shared pursuits like “organic gardening” in Gonzo Marketing. John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison talk about the importance of shared purpose in The Power of Pull, particularly when it comes to designing “creation spaces” in order to get the increasing-returns value from the “collaboration curve”.
What I didn’t realise deeply enough was this: when the shared purpose is itself about sharing, then collaboration becomes part of the DNA.
Life is never smooth; that holds true at work as much as anywhere else. Historically, reinforced by hierarchical structures, information has been seen as power, and as a consequence collaborative attitudes have been weakened. Often this has been exacerbated by individual rather than team-based incentive systems, opaque performance management systems and, sadly, not infrequently, rampant briefing-blame cultures.
As the saying goes, character is not about the problems you face, but about the responses you make to those problems. The time when problems occur at work is probably the most important time for people to collaborate. But it isn’t easy to do.
Of course it helps if leaders set an example.
Of course it helps if, as Tim O’Reilly stated, there is an “architecture of participation“.
Of course it helps if performance management and reward mechanisms are tuned to recognise and reward collaborative activity.
My gut feel, however, is that these are all necessary-but-insufficient conditions for true collaboration at work.
The economic climate, the pace at which markets move, the consequences of the Big Shift on barriers to entry, competition and margins, the nature and complexity of the problems we face today as humans, as a society, as humanity — all these militate towards a greater need for collaboration.
But then we have to go beyond the necessary-but-insufficient conditions, towards the kind of model Marc Benioff talks about, where philanthropy becomes a shared value at the heart of the company.
Then and only then will true collaboration take place within and beyond the firm.
That’s what I think. Let me know whether you agree, what needs changing, what I’ve got wrong.
[A coda: Just saw friend Don Thorson of Swipp share a John Maxwell quote that I thought was relevant to this post: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.]