Research Cycle 3

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Upon completion of research second cycle 2, I realized that I did not ask any of my team members for their input prior to launching my action research.  We already had SharePoint in place so we basically took the “use what you have” approach, an opportunistic “borrow, adopt, adapt, and cobble together” strategy (Wenger et Al., 2009).  I was involved in planning with my immediate manager and so I may have missed any collaboration requirements from my team.  In fact, I feel that there would be a higher participation rate if I designed the site to accommodate the team’s need.  

Now that I’ve implemented a Blog/Forum in research cycle 1 and the Wiki in research cycle 2, I wanted to get feedback from my team on how I could improve upon the SharePoint site so that it would make it more appealing to them so that they would use it more on a daily basis.  I wanted to understand what my team’s thoughts were when it came to their individual intrinsic motivations as well as their barriers to sharing their knowledge.  

For my third research cycle, I asked: 

“If I interviewed my team to find out what their thoughts were about our recent research cycles, what would I discover from these one on ones that would improve our SharePoint site so that the team would use the site more often?”

A major advantage of an interview is its adaptability (Bell, 1999).  I wanted to extract the team members responses so that I could gather that data to improve upon the collaboration efforts.  By understanding their thoughts, I hope to enhance their individual experiences by implementing change to the internal SharePoint site. 

Research cycle three was initiated on April 28th, 2010 during the weekly staff meeting.  I provided my weekly updates on my regular projects and then provided the team an update to the SharePoint project.  Soon after the staff meeting, I scheduled the one-on-ones with each of the 11 team members.  Of the 11 members solicited, 10 responded.  During the sessions, I asked each member of the team the same questions in the same order.  For those team members that were off-site, (UK) I sent them the questions in advance so that they could send them back to me.  

The five interview questions were:

  • How often do you use SharePoint for your job function? Daily, Weekly or Monthly basis?
  • What can be improved in the communication of the use of the Wiki/Blog and SharePoint document repository?
  • Do you think that SharePoint assist in problem solving by linking together individuals with subject knowledge?
  • What do you think the barriers are to collaboration and knowledge sharing?
  • Do you feel that if we shared our expertise, would it help develop our own professional skills?

Each session was scheduled for one hour and I told each team member that this project had no bearing on any performance reviews nor will the information be relayed back to management in any way.  I wanted to get a truthful response from everyone so that I could improve the process and ultimately improve upon SharePoint. 

Data Collected for Research Cycle 3

For research cycle 3, I conducted interviews with my immediate team.  For those who were in the Costa Mesa, California office, I did face-to-face interviews with them (6 of them).  For the remaining team members, I sent them the interview questions in advance and called them on the phone to discuss the questions.  For each question that was asked, I wrote down the key points that were talked about on my notepad. I then collected all the responses and listed them with frequency, not for all of the different types of replies. 

Method

The discovery sessions yielded some interesting outcomes.  I initially thought that everyone on the team had a bookmark to the internal SharePoint site that was created for our collaboration. When I interviewed my team and asked how often they visited the site, 40% were daily users, but 20% did not know where the site was and had to dig through their past emails to find the SharePoint (see Figure 1).  I was under the impression that everyone knew where to find the site so that they could contribute to the SharePoint site.



Figure 1 How often a co-worker visits the SharePoint site. 

Communication through Blogs and Wikis

The second interview question was aimed at improvements to the SharePoint site.  I wanted to see if I could improve the SharePoint site so that it would be easier to navigate and collaborate.  The site was already in use in August 2009, so I wanted to see if the team had any issues with the site in terms of usability.  The responses of the team indicated that a third of the team reported that there were problems around the usability or ease of use of SharePoint.  They thought that it was hard navigating through the environment and there were no standards on where information was kept.  Another third of the team thought that the improvement of the use of the wiki could come when there was more collaboration around the articles in the blogs and forums. One team member felt that the wiki and blog was function well in this respect.  Other suggestions included linking our content to external sources or for someone in the group to provide commentary on the posted articles.

Problem Solving Mediated by SharePoint

The goal of our team learning is to align people's thinking and energies through dialogue to transform the collective thinking of individuals into something bigger than the sum of its parts (Senge, 1990).  I asked the team to share their ideas were surrounding collective thinking and how our team would benefit from sharing our knowledge in SharePoint.  In our discussions, four of the team members indicated that they felt that SharePoint assisted in problem solving by linking together individuals with subject matter.  Two of the team member centered their responses to this question about problem solving by discussing the issue of completeness of the content.  One person brought the importance of our need for an editor, while another focused on their perception that the sites was more helpful for one person but not all of the people.  Team mates felt that additional instruction is needed so that the system would be utilized in a more effective manner.

Barriers to Effective Knowledge Sharing

An important question, for any knowledge management system, that I wanted to ask the team was:  What do you think the barriers are to collaboration and knowledge sharing?  As I researched knowledge management, I found many barriers to sharing.  One reason for employee resistance to knowledge sharing is that many people view their expertise as an intangible asset they are unwilling to part with.  Put differently, many workers view their knowledge or expertise as a source of power (Nonaka, Toyama & Konno, 2001) that is critical to their value as employees.  Table 1 shows the key words that were given as answers to my question about barriers to collaborate. 


Table 1 Key words to describe barriers to knowledge sharing

The notable trend I wanted to point out for this data set was that some of the respondents replied to a couple of key words that were dependant on each other.  For example, 40% of the respondents thought that knowledge is power and in turn 30% of the respondents also thought by keeping the knowledge themselves, that would in turn give them job security in a siloed environment.  People view knowledge as a method of securing their job.  So they're reluctant to share (De Long & Fahey, 2000).  The trend also pointed to upper management support.  Thirty percent of the response was geared towards Organization/Management support.  Employees are now working longer hours with less staff (30% responded with less time to do their work).  The impact of top management and leadership support is greater for knowledge management as it is an emerging discipline and employees may need the added incentive of a total commitment from their organizations top management and leadership (Conley & Zheng, 2009).

Professional Development through Shared Expertise

The final interview questions were asked of all of the team members.  The thought was that if everyone shared their experiences and knowledge, then everyone should develop a particular skill that they did not start out with thus upgrading their professional skills.  Figure 2 shows the response to: Do you feel that if we shared our expertise, would it help develop our own professional skills  

 

Figure 2 Responses to sharing expertise

Although I feel that the response rate was a general yes, participation on the SharePoint was not as high as the response yielded.  Three members of the team did not contribute to the wiki, and only 4 members of the team contributed to the blog/forums on a regular basis.  There seemed to be a trend that people did not participate voluntarily.  What has been discovered is that, first, people will not voluntarily share knowledge unless they feel some moral commitment to do so and second, people will not share unless the dynamics of change favor exchange (Northouse, 2003).  Through the interview process, the general responses that I gathered was that my team members were reluctant to share with their peers because they had no incentive to and they were not immediately told to do so by management.  

Reflecting Back on the Third Cycle

Research cycle 3 was a crucial cycle for my action research.  I wanted to have an informal conference call with my co-workers so that I could understand their thoughts on the first and second cycle.  To them, it was just their thoughts on my approach to the whole SharePoint project.  The main goal of this cycle was for me to get into their thought processes so that I could understand where they were coming from a usage perspective.  I wanted to explore the general feeling of the team on using SharePoint to share knowledge and their reactions to the collaboration functions of the technology.  I also wanted to understand better what the barriers were that might be impeding their knowledge sharing.  I made the face-to-face/phone interviews extremely informal.  I wanted my co-workers to share with me their thoughts truthfully so that I could improve upon the approach moving forward and to better enhance the product in the near future.  

Being part of the technology team, I did not expect the team to push back on SharePoint.  Going into the action research, I had an understanding that most of the teammates were already aware of SharePoint and thought that most of them already had the team page bookmarked, or knew where the site was.  Finding out this was not the case for two of my team members was disappointing.  Throughout the project 2 of the team members had to rely on their archived emails in order to find the SharePoint site.  The whole project was mainly about collaboration and knowledge sharing, so I felt that I totally missed those two co-workers.  Did I overestimate the technical knowledge of my team?  Did I need to actually show them how to work on SharePoint?  Looking back to the interview answers, my teammates pointed out the ease of use, fear (technical) and time was a factor in sharing knowledge (Table 1).  This may have pointed to the fact that I needed to take more time to assist individual members of the team in learning SharePoint.  Team members did not really know how to use the site and felt that it was too burdensome of a tool for them.  The team did not have the time to overcome the implementation dip, their performance and confidence in the new tool and their understanding of it was low. 

Taking stock, I had an internal thought that the technology is easy, knowledge sharing is easy and why should it be hard to grasp?  By going through research cycle 3, I found that SharePoint is not just a tool you can implement without prior training so that employees can properly navigate within it.  There also has to be some sort of value for the employees.  There are two types of commitments in my immediate team, an external and internal commitment.  External commitment is triggered by management policies and practices that enable employees to accomplish their tasks.  Internal commitment derives from energies internal to human beings that are activated because getting a job done is intrinsically rewarding (Northouse, 2003).   I’ve learned that the cultural norm for our group is tied in strong ways to issues of job security and insecurity.  Our company has been laying off employees recently and therefore, many of the members of my team see their knowledge as power or resource and by keep that knowledge to themselves, they are a valued resource to the company.  The interviews touched upon this subject and I have learned that everyone in the group had a specific reason not to fully participate in the collaboration.  Technology is not easily learned and is not a one-size-fits-all for everyone.  Every user of the system has a different experience, some were more warming to the technology and others were more non-receptive of the technology.  I’ve also learned that my approach needed to adapt to every individual.  Some teammates need more attention and tutoring while others were perfectly fine when left alone.  In the upcoming cycle, I will need to introduce a tutorial to the team so that everyone is on the same learning level with one another.  I will need to create a computer based training session with each member to gauge their level of expertise within SharePoint.  

Change is never an easy task to implement.  A computer system can have iterations of changes, versioning and updates to their internal operating systems.  As I thought about my fellow co-workers, I came to the realization that some of them feared change.  They too did not want to learn a new technology or did not want to forcefully incorporate yet another tool into their tool chest.  Some humans have the social-psychchological fear of change and the lack of technical know-how or skills to make the change work for them (Northouse, 2003).  Every system has to go through an adoption process and I did not give enough thought into supporting that process.  I built the requirements in SharePoint without soliciting input from my teammates.  Looking through my eyes, I was eager to share my knowledge through the forums/blogs and wikis.  I jumped head on into the project with my set of goals without gathering the thoughts and ideas from my teammates.  I violated the first rule of a project, gather business requirements and build the system to support the needs of the users.  These users were my co-workers and I needed to ease them to the technology.  I assumed that they would understand the business need so my approach was flawed upon completing the interview.  

As I reflect back on the third research cycle, I needed to be more empathetic to my fellow co-workers.  My approach was extremely focused on getting the specific task completed without reflection on how it needed to get done.  SharePoint was my answer that I was looking for in terms of knowledge sharing and collaboration.  It provided a central repository for document management, collaboration through blogs/forums and process documentation with the use of the Wiki.  The group’s thought was they already had a share drive on the network and they were perfectly fine with the current way of doing their jobs.  Perhaps I should have slowed down to understand each co-worker’s technique prior to launching a full on project on making them change.  I was moving full steam ahead, like a pacesetting racecar prepping for the big race.  Little did I know there were only a few co-workers behind me, the rest were nowhere near where I was.  It was not that they were unable and unwilling, but they did not see the value of the project.  Each individual had their own incentives and barriers to sharing knowledge.  If I knew then what I know now, I would indeed interviewed and solicited my team members first so that I could understand what their needs are then build a project to technically support their vision or mission.  

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