No person is an Island – The Importance of Collaboration in the Office

John Donne, the 16th century English poet wrote “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated….No man is an island, entire of itself...”

I think this can be translated into the modern business view by adjusting the words as follows:

“A business is developed and sustained by all its staff, as one person works, or if they leave, if their knowledge is captured and shared, then the business can continue to prosper and grow from that person’s knowledge and skill…..No one can operate independently in a business, even if they wanted to, but must work together to maximize results...”

We call this collaboration. You are not an island. You are a node on a network. Your knowledge, skills, and hard work can get the job done today, and then, if captured properly, searchable and shareable, can help other staff save time and make better decisions down the road.

The challenging part, I believe, is the “capturing, searchable, and shareable”. There is a whole field of Knowledge Management to address the “capture, storage, and dissemination of information”. For a small company like mine, SharePoint accomplishes most of what I need, very, very simply.

First of all, at Sector we do everything on SharePoint (2010). We do not have file servers. We do have Exchange serving our email, but it is underworked as rather than attachments, we send links to SharePoint documents, wiki pages, and list items.

My motto lately has been “email sucks”. Even more so today since my Outlook has been acting up…but even in general. I shudder when I hear “I have it in my email”. Sure, email has lots of great organization and searching tools, but it is still a PERSONAL storage system. (Yes, system administrators and the like can read your email, but that is only if necessary.) It fails to make the information you gather every day accessible to others in the organization.

What we are doing at Sector, and it is working well, is to keep as much corporate knowledge as possible in a central location, that is searchable and accessible by everyone. SharePoint is our tool of choice for this not just because it is free to install, but also because we think it does a very good job!

Think about it. If one of your staff leaves suddenly (the lottery syndrome), how much of that person’s day-to-day is gone with them? Lots. What if they have organically, without any real extra work, been storing their work products, to-do lists, and job skill knowledge on a central server (SharePoint) where everyone can look? With SharePoint 2010’s Fast™ Search, in seconds everyone in the organization (given appropriate permission levels – easily settable in SharePoint) can reads that person’s documents and pick up where they left off with a lot less fuss. By the same token, my interim work products are available to all my staff so they can use what I have developed, without actually having to be aware of it or ask me for it. One tool I really like, that Sean Wallbridge of itgroove showed me, is to use a simple view on our document libraries to show “15 most recent modified files” – this keeps my finger on the pulse of what everybody is doing, without them having to tell me.

In today’s business and government environments, “no man (or woman) is an island”. We don’t have time to tell everybody all the time what we are up to, nor is everybody able to remember what everybody else has done last week or last year. But when you store as much as possible in a central location, and provide powerful search mechanisms, each person becomes an information hub, sharing with everyone else on an as and when needed basis.

Gerry Brimacombe
CEO, Sector Learning Solutions

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