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Is Sharing a Good Idea?

A good friend of mine, Terri Griffith, lives in these two divergent worlds: First, she’s an expert and enthusiast in the enterprise 2.0 / collaboration workspace. Second, she’s a professor (she has a Ph.D.), yet no one has ever called educational institutions the hotbed of collaboration…

She’s got a new book coming out this week: The Plugged-In Manager. I saw an early preview and I swore then that it would be a best-seller. It’s that good and serves a really practical space for people wanting to use collaborative technology to improve how things work.

One big and fundamental assumption Terri makes is that sharing = good. And that more sharing = more good. Interestingly enough, I know a lot of managers who think this robs them of power (if I am not a central hub, what am I?) or that sharing is inappropriate (my job is to act as a buffer and conduit). So, I asked Terri 3 questions and I want to share her take on them.

Why Does it Matter?
In fast changing situations, our world is too complex for many (any?) of us to take on significant tasks by ourselves. Sharing is the practice that signals what you’re trying to do with an expectation that others will begin to help. If we don’t share, then we’re just asking people to individually connect a set of dots. We’ll get a picture, but I guarantee it won’t be a work of art. Nuance and color will be missing even in the simplest situation. Sharing is the best tool we have for dealing with the complexity and speed of our environment.

When and Why Does it Work?
Given that we are getting used to sharing in so much of our personal and professional life: 750 million active Facebook users, 100 million active on Twitter, and 48 million on LinkedIn, sharing is now a standard practice in social life.

Sharing at work is a bit different. At work, it’s more sharing as teaching. This practice is about modeling plugged-in behavior and “thinking aloud” so others can see the ideas in context, as the idea is coming into shape, hopefully even getting their own hands dirty so they learn at a deeper level than just thinking about the issues.

If things are not transparent, you are making people “implementers” rather than people moving along together toward a goal having agreed on many of the rules of the game before it starts. I always find myself a bit guilty when I explain sharing in these ways. It’s sharing for a purpose, sharing to reach a goal, sharing in a way that will help me with the task at hand. It’s not sharing just to be nice or open without some expectation that it’s going to move the organization forward. But that’s when it works.

How can you share too much?
Privacy and regulations immediately jump to mind. Both personal and professional/legal limits exist to what we can or should share. The first practice I talk about in The Plugged-In Manager, is to do a Stop-Look-Listen. It also serves as a safety net. If we stop and look at our situation first, we should be aware of critical limits to our sharing (e.g., quiet periods during an IPO, Federal regulations around financial, health, and student information). If course, let’s also remember that we’re working with people that have actual feelings; all organizations have cultural norms and strategic needs. Those all need to be weighed in…there is no one size fits all. That’s why we still need leaders.

While Terri might feel guilty to say sharing has a purpose, she’s absolutely right. It’s not about “nice-nice”, it holds with it an expectation that people are playing in a different way. Without that cultural context, innovation rarely happens.

I met Terri a while ago because Barry Posner (who, along with Jim Kouzes is #1 best seller in the leadership category with I think 4M copies of books sold) enthusiastically endorsed The New How and thought Terri would ”get it”. He also thought we’d have some common interests and, no surprise, he was right. I’ve become a big fan of her as she developed her ideas around being Plugged-In. She’s done a fantastic job collecting case studies of how real leaders (like Tony Hsieh of Zappos) use this combination of technology/people/organizations to enable their companies to be better. If you think this is an area you need some insight into, it’s a great resource. (By the way, if you don’t know this, authors value support the first week of a launch – it sets the trajectory of a book’s adoption…) It’s also a nice companion to Andrew McAfee’s work on Enterprise 2.0. You can find it here.

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