Stan Garfield

Apr 16, 2018

14 min read

Originally published on March 19, 2016

Here are 20 knowledge-sharing and collaboration bad habits I have observed, with suggestions for what to do to break them.

1. Obsessing over analytics, producing slides with nice-looking (but insight-poor) graphs, or cutting data in every possible way in lieu of taking action, e.g.,

  • I need demographic data to increase engagement in my organization.
  • I want to receive a country-specific report to help promote the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) tool. We’d like to understand our metrics, including a breakdown of users, posts, and praise by function and level for our country.
  • Is there a way to get page views, site visits, and other metrics from an internal team site?

What do do: Reply with a question: What actions will be taken based on data broken down like this? Then help change the requests into ones that lead directly to useful actions:

  • What can we do to shift from ineffective modes of collaboration to more effective ones?
  • How can we use the ESN in our organization to make us more efficient?
  • Is our team site meeting the needs of the team, and how can we make it even more useful?

Then respond to these requests with practical advice and hands-on assistance.

2. Sending private emails or private ESN messages with queries, e.g.,

  • Email message: I am writing a paper on sharing knowledge, and Enterprise Social Networks in particular. I would like to refer to a story that happened a while back. Could you help me locate it in our ESN?
  • Email message: I’m trying to help a practitioner find a current example of a document management strategy. Are you aware of any document management strategies that could be shared?
  • Private ESN message: You probably know the answer ;) Do we have access to these studies?
  • Multiple forwarded email messages:
  1. Original requester: Do you have any write-up that I can use?
  2. First recipient, forwarding to two other people, but not the original requester: Can you look at this and let me know if we have anything we can send?
  3. Second recipient, replying to five people: Adding two people as they may have something we can re-purpose. Also adding another person to ensure we’re coordinated.
  4. Third recipient, replying to five people, but not adding the recommended expert: Contact the expert on this topic, name>.
  5. First recipient, forwarding to recommended expert only: Please see the previous email thread and let me know if you might be able to point me to some information.
  6. Recommended expert, replying to original requester and all other recipients: Please post in this ESN group and I will be glad to respond to you there.

What to do: Reply with messages such as:

  • If you post your recollections about it in our ESN, there may be others who do. And this will demonstrate using our ESN for sharing knowledge.
  • Please post your query in a public group in our ESN. This will allow others to reply and also to benefit from the exchange.
  • For KM questions, please post them in the Knowledge Management ESN group, and I will be glad to answer you there.

If they don’t take your advice and post in the ESN, post on their behalf. You may need to mention specific people who can respond.

3. Removing people from the list of recipients of a message, e.g.,

  • Sending a private message about an open community call
  1. One-to-one email: Please advise if there are specific areas where you or the presenter may be expecting (unfiltered?) input or feedback for this session.
  2. Reply, adding two people: Open, honest discussions, including unfiltered input and feedback, should be a part of all our community calls.
  3. Reply, removing the two people: Any specific reason they were pulled into the thread?
  4. One-to-one reply: They are the co-leaders of the community. One of them scheduled the presenter.
  • Removing people from a message requesting action
  1. One-to-many email: Please reply with the date that the action will be taken.
  2. Reply, removing the person who needs to take action: In this situation, I do not think it was helpful to share the conversation — it created confusion.
  • Same example cited above about sending private emails with queries
  1. Original requester sends to first recipient
  2. First recipient forwards to two other people, but not the original requester
  3. Second recipient replies to these three people, and adds three more
  4. Third recipient replies to these five people
  5. First recipient forwards to recommended expert only
  6. Recommended expert replies to original requester and all other recipients and redirects the request to the appropriate ESN group

What to do: Counter these behaviors:

  • Add people back in who were removed so that everyone sees the entire exchange
  • Copy and paste text from replies not sent to everyone into the next reply
  • Redirect email threads to the ESN so that everyone in the thread can see its entire history

4. Leaders not using a tool effectively, e.g.,

  • Failing to monitor activity in the ESN
  • Using distribution lists and email messages rather than the ESN
  • Asking for questions to be posted in the ESN, but not responding there:
  1. We would like to invite you to use this new ESN group as a forum to ask any questions you have about the new organization.
  2. The purpose of this thread is to collect questions only.
  3. We will not be responding to questions via this forum, but instead we will provide responses in an FAQ document that we will share with you later.

What to do:

  • Help set up email notifications for leaders so that they will be able to monitor and respond to ESN posts
  • Follow the tips in How leaders can improve internal communications using an ESN
  • Explain to the leaders the benefits of answering the questions directly in the ESN group, rather than in a static FAQ document, including:
  1. Keeping all questions and answers in once place
  2. Being able to dynamically update the information as needed
  3. Engaging in a true interactive discussion, with follow-up questions
  4. Allowing multiple people to reply, incorporating diverse perspectives
  5. Leading by example, using the collaboration tool to actually collaborate

5. Avoiding direct use of knowledge-sharing tools, e.g.,

  • Can we share this to the ESN group? — Implied that someone else should do so
  • I asked our support team to run a search, and they didn’t find anything. — Did not perform their own search
  • We’re looking to roll out a monthly message from our leader, and while he will be very involved in crafting the message, I’d like to alleviate his need to actually post it. — Wanted to post on behalf of a leader

What to do: Suggest that they share, search, or post directly, rather than asking someone else to do so. Explain the benefits, and offer to help them do it the first time. Benefits include:

  • Experiencing first-hand the environment that is recommended for others, and being able to directly relate to the user experience.
  • Being able to speak credibly about what can be done based on actual experience.
  • Ensuring that what needs to be done is accomplished as desired.
  • Iterating on the search as needed to get the desired results without having to go back and forth with someone else.
  • Leading by example to model the desired behaviors, using their own authentic voice

6. Talking but not acting, e.g., about:

  • Innovation, but don’t actually innovate
  • Cognitive computing, but make only timid attempts
  • Gamification, but resist applying it
  • Sharing openly, but continue to share privately only
  • The need to use tools, but don’t use them

What to do: Help move from talk to action:

  • Make suggestions
  • Offer to help prototype, pilot, and test
  • Identify partners to assist with implementation
  • Remind those not sharing openly of the benefits of doing so
  • Offer to train on and assist in the use of tools

7. Using an ESN like an email distribution list, e.g.,

  • Using it to push official messages, newsletters, and other one-way, communications, rather than starting two-way discussions
  • Sending out corporate-speak-laden messages, rather than initiating conversations using authentic voices
  • Adding each member of an audience to an ESN group, rather than inviting them to join

What to do: Suggest ways to take advantage of the differences between email and an ESN:

  • Replace lengthy, infrequent newsletters with short, frequent posts. These will be more likely to be actually read due to their brevity.
  • Use opt-in for ESN groups instead of manually adding members
  1. It is labor-intensive, and it is only a partial solution. People get added to the ESN group, but they may not automatically get email notifications — they need to do this themselves.
  2. Because they have to follow instructions to subscribe to email notifications, they can just as easily follow instructions for joining at the same time.
  3. People should choose to join an ESN group. If it is valuable, they will do so, especially if that is the only way to receive updates.
  4. You will avoid annoying people who wonder why they were added to the group, and may post sharply-worded messages demanding to be removed
  5. Make the group useful, send out an invitation to the target audience to join it, and they will do so.

8. Using channels outside of an ESN for interactions that started there, e.g., the following replies to threads started in the ESN:

  • We have discussed this via email; let me know if you are satisfied with the response
  • Please reply to me by email at this address
  • Please reach out to us via e-mail and we can share the appropriate documents
  • I sent you some files by email
  • Reach out to Jack and Jill — they may be able to help provide additional documentation

What to do: Remind people to continue replying in the ESN:

  • Reply in the thread, not outside of it
  • Ask for replies within the thread, not by requesting private email responses
  • Post files as attachments to the thread, not by sending them by email
  • Mention people by name and ask them to reply in the thread, rather than suggesting that they be contacted offline

9. Providing limited information about what is being sought in a query, e.g.,

  • I would like to get some insights on a knowledge base framework.
  • I am looking for MQ series pros for a setup problem on a sandbox installation.
  • Does anyone have any knowledge management best practices?

What to do: Educate users on how to ask for help; reply with:

  • What you are working on?
  • What specific insights are you seeking?
  • What do you plan to do with the insights?
  • Please expand on your query. The more details you can provide, the greater the chance for others to respond.

10. Doing only what is requested, e.g.,

  • Won’t answer questions in an ESN group because they were not explicitly told to do so
  • Perform an unnecessary, labor-intensive task instead of insisting on a better alternative
  • Wait to see what stakeholders want, rather than suggesting to them what should be done

What to do: Instead of being told what to do, lead the way:

  • Share your vision for how knowledge sharing should work
  • Persuade others to follow your lead by telling stories, developing prototypes, passionately persuading others, and acting boldly
  • Act as a trusted advisor, not as an order taker

11. Withholding the names of people whose identity should be visible, e.g.,

  • Sending email or or posting in an ESN using the account of an organization, not a person
  • Listing an email box rather than a personal email address as the contact for support
  • Omitting the name of an actual person as the page contact on a web site

What to do: Explain the reasons for identifying actual people:

  • Communications should be associated with specific people so they are credible and the authors are accountable
  • ESNs are based on connecting people to people, who interact authentically with each other
  • People want to know whom they can contact should they need to follow up

12. Not sharing openly, e.g.,

  • Sharing links to articles of general interest in a private ESN group
  • Participating in task forces, conferences, or councils, but not sharing information with those who were not there
  • Privately responding to requests sent to help desks and support channels

What to do: Offer specific suggestions for open sharing to those who fail to do so, reminding them of the benefits for them and the organization of doing so:

  • Send a private message suggesting that the link be shared in the most relevant public group
  • Offer a slot on a community call to report on the highlights from recently-attended events
  • Suggest to help desks and support channels that they redirect requests to public ESN groups and respond there — this will save them from having to answer the same questions repeatedly

13. Ignoring questions in ESN groups and failing to reply to email requests, e.g.,

  • Could one or more of you please reply to this thread? — No replies
  • There are unanswered questions in the group for which you are the administrator. Please answer them. — No action
  • This group has no group admin. If you are willing to take over as the group admin, and agree to monitor the group, make sure questions are answered, and that it is active with regular posts, please reply to this thread to volunteer. If no one volunteers, the group will be retired. — No replies

What to do: Keep following up:

  • Send reminder email messages to those who have not yet acted
  • If they still don’t respond, forward the messages to others until someone does
  • To combat passive aggressive behavior, state what action will be taken if there is no response, e.g., your group will be retired

14. Disparaging existing tools, wanting to jump on the bandwagon of the latest trendy technology, e.g.,

  • Let’s change the appearance of current tool to make more people use it
  • No one uses current tool any more, so let’s use something else
  • If we change tools, we can increase adoption
  • We should use the hot new tool I keep hearing about
  • Try to make a tool do something it doesn’t do well
  • Choose a new tool for a purpose similar to an existing one, even though the existing tool would do just fine, e.g., using a separate tool for ideation when the ESN could be used

What to do: Listen with an open mind, don’t be defensive, and respond with data and logic:

  • Evaluate new tools as they become available as possible additions to or replacements for the current suite of tools
  • Provide factual evidence of current use to refute inaccurate perceptions
  • Offer training, provide success stories, and lead by example to show how to use current tools effectively
  • Provide use cases to help decide which tools to use for each task
  • Explain that a tool doesn’t automatically change behavior — change management is needed instead

15. Hosting con calls and webinars ineffectively, e.g.,

  • Not using the ESN to announce calls, post slides, or post recordings
  • Unnecessarily limiting who can participate
  • Failing to anticipate typical problems and mitigating their impact
  • Using unreliable technology, e.g.,
  1. Inadequate capacity, bandwidth, or functionality
  2. Live video chats with failing audio, hanging or erratic streaming, or intermittent or clipped audio
  3. Participants can’t hear, can’t be heard, can’t view shared content, or become disconnected

What to do:

  • Anticipate that this question will be asked: “Will the slides be distributed after the session?” Make them available before the session, and post a visible reminder about this with a link to the slides.
  • If you are presenting or speaking, expect that your dog will bark, your child will cry, and your cell phone will ring while you are talking. Take steps to prevent these from disrupting the call. Watch this humorous, yet unfortunately, all-too-realistic, video, The Conference Call.
  • If you can get away without having to do screen-sharing or use other interactive technology during a call, use low-tech, more reliable tools. These include using an old-fashioned, dial-in conference line, posting the slides in a well-known, accessible spot such as your ESN (internally) or SlideShare (externally), and conducting group chat in your ESN (internally) or Twitter (externally). This will avoid wasting time dealing with technical problems during the call. The simpler and more reliable the technology you use, the better the call will go. See Low-Tech Webinars are the Most Reliable.

16. Posting the same message to multiple ESN groups, appearing to be spam to many of the members, e.g.,

  • Does anyone know how to access the documentation?
  • Spread across various locations, happening on different dates. Do not miss the chance to build relationships and increase exposure to leadership. Two successful shows within 2 locations. Where next? Stay tuned for more details!
  • I am a finalist in a competition. Please help me place in the top 5 and win. Click on this link and like the video. Thanks for your support!!!

What to do: Reply privately to those who do this with a gentle reminder:

  • Don’t post the same query or request in a large number of groups.
  • Post only once, and then share it a few times in only the most relevant groups.
  • Posting the same message in so many groups will likely be perceived as spam, so be more targeted to ensure that the group members will appreciate your post.

17. Creating an ESN group, but never answering any questions in it, e.g.,

  • October 16, 2013 — group created
  • November 12, 2013 — I want to use this group as a place to share industry information. It is of critical importance in today’s world.
  • February 18, 2014 — question posted, but not answered
  • February 19, 2014 — question posted, but not answered
  • February 21, 2014 — question posted, but not answered
  • May 22, 2014 — question posted, but not answered
  • July 17, 2014 — question posted, but not answered
  • February 3, 2015 — question posted, but not answered
  • February 5, 2015 — question posted, but not answered
  • April 18, 2015 — question posted, but not answered
  • June 3, 2015 — question posted, but not answered

What to do: Publish expectations for group admins, post them prominently online, and send an email to all group admins: If the following condition exists for more than a month, a group may be deleted: Unanswered questions

18. Posting to an ESN group just to make appear active, so it won’t be deleted, e.g., the following are all of the posts in one group:

  • July 19, 2012 — thanks for creating this group.
  • June 17, 2013 — not much happening around here :) just got a warning message that they’ll delete the group if we don’t post anything in the next month or so…
  • June 23, 2014 — just to save the group from being deleted
  • January 20, 2015 — once again, just to save the group from being deleted

What to do: Publish expectations for group admins, post them prominently online, and send an email to all group admins: If the following condition exists for more than a month, a group may be deleted: Posts were made to keep the group from being deleted, but are not of any value

19. Promising to make an ESN group active, but not actually doing it, e.g.,

  • We still require this group and will ensure regular posts are made to keep it alive.
  • We require this group. I plan to make this group active this month.
  • Could we please leave the group open? We would like to encourage people to use the group and will be bringing it up in future meetings.

What to do: Reply with suggestions, e.g.,

20. Posting mostly trivial items, e.g.,

  • “Congrats!” and “Great post!” and “Me, too!” and “Looking forward to it!” replies
  • Push announcements, cross-posted links, and duplicate posts
  • Emojis, selfies, and other low-value posts

What to do: Suggest better ways to participate:

  • Use “Like” to avoid generating additional posts and associated notifications
  • When replying, include specific information, such as how the post was useful, your opinion, or an insight you gained
  • Share or retweet those posts which you want others to see, adding context about why you are doing so

Also see:

What other bad habits would you add to this list? How do you break them?