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I booked an Airbnb for July; €80 for three nights. I’m happy to sacrifice a nice fluffy pillow and a mint to save a few quid. Airbnb is not for everyone, but there is no comparison to what happened next.

The host contacted me right after booking; enquired about my arrival time, sent me a breakdown of four travel options from the airport and gave some sound advice about avoiding options that local travel operators would offer.

I sent my reply and received another swift response.

“You’ll not get something to eat at that time, what can I prepare for you, so it’s ready for when you arrive?”

Tell me, would your preferred hotel chain offer this experience?

Two strangers, different nationalities, different cultures, same objective: feel mutual trust to share the same space.

Here’s the bridge: why wouldn’t you use Airbnb? Actually, there’s a better question: why don’t you trust the host?

There’s a gap between you and them; yet my host has just built a huge bridge to that uncertainty.

So, my assertion is that the same bridges need to be built in organisations so people can create true value in a sharing economy. And the role of the manager becomes architect.

We need to firstly be willing to redesign the default state. Here’s three frustrations from an endless list:

“Has anyone got a better idea?”. It’s a yes or no. But you feel pressure: is what I have to share valuable? How many times did you decide against it through fear of judgement?

“Let me show you the ropes”.  We’ve all been there: you join a business and are caught on the receiving end of info-dump. It’s not easy to figure out what information to trust, what to hold onto, what you don’t need right now. Instead, you opt for a brave face, nod your head lots and fill a notepad; 70% of it you’re probably never going to do anything with, let alone revisit.

“Where to start…”. The pain of trying to navigate the day to day. Why is it so difficult to access information at the point of need? Firstly, who’s got the information I need? Where are they? When are they available? Oh, hang on, I feel a temptation: I wonder if it would cause much disruption if I ploughed on without it?

From ‘knowledge is power’, to ‘knowledge-sharing is power’
What would happen if you took all the tacit knowledge in your business and put it in a room?

Now imagine operationalising that network. Something so visible you no longer had that pain of trying to find people, rather their knowledge was as on-demand as your favourite show on Sky.

At the 2018 Peter Drucker Forum, Dave Ulrich posed a question: “how do you help the heroes to succeed?”. He’s referring to what’s known in organisation network analysis as your true influencers. In the same forum, Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Haier, spoke about disrupting the employee experience, and at the same time that of the organisation; shifting from bureaucracy to the ‘three-selves’; self-employed, self-motivated, self-organised.

Two fascinating concepts, but you need to turn that into reality. Let’s craft a few ideas that will help you to build relevant bridges. And when you do, you’ll leverage your own sharing economy.

Nobody built the golden gate bridge over night.
I’m sharing two ideas below, but the most critical question for you to answer is:

Within my context, what aspects of finding and sharing information are people most frustrated with?

Pain #1: not knowing where to start
I’d suggest this is a top hit. Away from work, people are conditioned with personalised-everything. Likes, clicks, shares… it all builds an understanding of the individual; it’s designed to cut out the noise and serve you information that you’ll find most useful. Until artificial intelligence figures that out in the flow of work, you’ll need to do some hard graft to help people create connections.

Are silos getting in the way? Naomi Stanford talks about the power of creating bridges in this context, in her article ‘Silosmashing (December 2018)’:

“…taking inventive steps to build social connections go a long way towards bridging silos. But in themselves they are not sufficient. There have to be clearly communicated reasons for connecting and formal reinforcement of it with systems, processes and common platforms that track and enable connection”

Pain-relief: Create collaborative communities
Identify the commonality in challenges and interests, and design-in routines that bring people together.

An example of this is the practice involved in Agile ways of working; in particular routine communication.

If you look beyond the fads and buzzwords, what you see is the value it adds in terms of connectedness and resourcefulness. People, not job titles, come together to share what they’ve learnt and seek help with pains.

This infrastructure supports times of crisis too; there’s a large team that can quickly form around a problem and solve it. A significant alternative to the all-to-traditional meeting of a select few behind closed doors to rationalise red, amber and green on a report, and then figure out who outside the room can solve it.

The best part about this practice is it’s designed around what someone’s day actually looks like:

  • What am I working on today?
  • Where might I get stuck?
  • Who can help me?  

Suddenly the pain of accessing information at the point of need is relieved.

You don’t need to get carried away with the hype and transform your business to Agile. But take this: how do I design the workflow, communication and interactions around what someone’s day actually looks like?

Pain #2: I fear people will judge my contribution
It’s the same with social media; some stats suggest up to 90% lurk in the background, fearful that what they have to say is not valuable.

To the Peter Drucker Forum examples above, you need to work out how to create an environment where people feel safe, secure and confident that the information they share will be used for the purpose intended. At a basic level, this comes down to behaviour; how are conversations led? What language is used?

Pain-relief: Cultivate a sense of ownership
Consider why “Does anyone have a better idea?” might provoke this pain.

Rather than info-dump, lead more conversations with curiosity and draw out ideas from others. People ought to feel that this is a place where learning from one another is a given and expected.

And it really does start from day one. It’s about flipping transactional work on its head; reducing the perception that the nature of work prevents people from finding and sharing knowledge, that would otherwise add significant value.

How many times is a new colleague in your business asked for their opinion in their first week, two, maybe even month?

Beyond their first 30 days, how often are you drawing people into debate, conflict and disagreement? In problem solving scenarios, set them up the issue and let people figure out the rest by filling the conversation with ideas. Hold the tension with divergence, resisting the temptation to filter too early.

Socially constructed value should be the default option, not a once-in-a-blue-moon. One of the reasons the agile practice of deliberate communication works, is it cultivates a sense of ownership in people to help solve the problem; where ideas are valued over job titles or status in the hierarchy.

My last assertion would be to nurture purposeful learning, by role modelling it. What would it take to make a simple shift, where the last part of everything, was to ask: what did I/you learn from that? Yes, that’s in retrospect, but it encourages focus on purposeful learning.

More than €80 of value
Airbnb has created a different meaning of value, far beyond a transaction.

All they’ve have done is said here’s a room; they’re very effective at linking people who need a room, to people who have a room to give. But what are the unsaid things? Maybe a rough mattress, no freebie soap or shower cap? But I can’t wait to see how much I will learn on this trip in July, at no extra cost.

Airbnb are helping to create a trusting environment where sharing and utilising assets is organic.

Modern workplaces need the same design. They require people to behave differently; to be more responsive and able to solve problems in the moment. Modern organisation design needs to build bridges to create a sharing economy.

Three questions to carry forward:
1, How do I design-out transactional work; reducing the perception that the nature of work prevents people from finding and sharing knowledge that would otherwise add significant value?
2. How do I design the workflow, communication and interactions around what someone’s day actually looks like?
3. What would my version of a sharing economy look like?

Try it now, go on, break your habit of transacting your way through articles:

  • What did I learn from what I just read?
  • Why will someone else benefit from this?
  • Who am I going to share this with?

Let go of the fear of judgement.

Chris Furnell – Learning & OD Practitioner

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