Knowledge Management Supporting Innovative Service Delivery #ILTA11

The speakers in this session: (i) Howard Nicols, Global Managing Partner, Squire Sanders & Dempsey; (ii) Brynn Wiswell, KM Associate, Baker Donelson; (iii) Scott Rechtschaffen, Chief Knowledge Officer, Littler Mendelson.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s Conference 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Impediments to Knowledge Management. Nicols believes that KM Collection, Currency and Delivery efforts have never achieved success within law firms. Most firms fail with their brief banks and precedent collections. Often the collections are incomplete. Once established, many collections fail to remain current. Finally, KM has failed in delivering this valuable content to the lawyers in the place they work at their moment of need. “If a lawyer won’t go to the filing cabinet, it doesn’t matter how full that file cabinet is.” Their firm was the first firm to pilot Lexis Total Search / Lexis Search Advantage. They do this to automate collection and ensure currency since the tool sits on top of their document management service. If a document is not current, they signal this in the system. Finally, they put the search window in the place where lawyers draft so they can easily search the collection.
  • Lawyers are Precedent Bound and Have Poor Vision. Blind adherence to the past makes is difficult to adapt to changes in the environment. To overcome these tendencies, Squire Sanders has reformed its structure to move from repeated action to innovation, they have established a project management steering committee, a process improvement steering committee and a knowledge management steering committee.
  • Nicols thinks the Cleveland Clinic has some important things to teach lawyers and Knowledge Management.The clinic has reformed every step of its patient handling process by engineering from the perspective of what makes sense for the patient — not the clinic. Systems are electronic and linked by a logical process. At each step of the process, he was assisted by a staff member with excellent people skills. They provided wireless network throughout so that he could stay in touch with his office and use his marginal time efficiently.
  • How has Squire Sanders Adopted the Cleveland Clinic Example?They have created matter sites that are shared by clients and their legal time. These sites show key contact, documents, financials (showing progress against budget), etc. In addition, they trained everyone from the secretaries, paralegals and lawyers to work entirely in this space. Sanders refers to this as the shared “play pen.”
  • Baker Donelson’s Service to Health Care Client. This case study shows how the firm developed from scratch tools to provide the client with transparency (client files, team calendar, team blog, team forms listing). The blog is completely open to the client — it’s the only blog the legal team uses. To improve Efficiency, they provide organized access to experts, deposition transcripts, access to law and administrative regulations (this is kept current by the team), resources (sample discovery, precedents, just verdicts, useful links), online processes to improve day-to-day business (organization cchart, administrative policies, physician insurance tracking, litigation hold systems, data mapping (of the client’s data storage). This case was the first step in moving into consulting for clients. The service is called BakerConnect (includes BakerCorp, BakerLit, document assembly, vendor information, a patent pending legal project management system).
  • Historical Objectives for KM.Littler is a large employment and labor law boutique. They have historically published a great deal of information. Originally, they focused on giving their 800 attorneys in 50+ offices instant access to the insights and experience of their peers, enhance access to a vast library of work product, give clients access to their experience and expertise. They have 10 knowledge management attorneys who act as professional support lawyers and provide a KM concierge service. In addition, they have another 10 staff members focused on technology, content, research and library.
  • KM Makes Money. About one-third of the firm’s KM expenses is covered through its subscription service called Littler GPS that provides clients with premium content relating to employment and labor law across the country, as well as the firm’s publishing activities..
  • KM’s New Objective:“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” (quote from Rahm Emanuel)
  • Littler’s Custom Built System for a National Client.In an attempt to bid for an entire class of the client’s work, they created the Littler CaseSmart Approach. In effect, the client outsourced this whole class of work to Littler. Components: assemble a multi-disciplinary team (including several consultants/vendors); conduct a legal process analysis to understand every step in the process and identify possible efficiencies; creating an advanced technology platform; provide transparent client access on a 24/7 basis (includes key stats on each matter showing major decisions made and how many matters are being settled or prosecuted); an alternative staffing model (program director, responsible supervising attorneys (partners), a group of dedicated flextime attorneys who work from home and have a career path), dedicated administrative staff; KM resources (KM attorneys, document automation, SharePoint team site with legal resources, team social networking, client-specific document templates).
  • What’s Littler’s Value Proposition for this Innovative Project?This project provides enhanced efficiency and cost savings (30%), coupled with enhanced transparency to manage risk. For the attorneys, efficiency need not result reduced revenue or reduced profitability. In fact, Littler’s margins on this work are “sensational.” Further they have learned that legal process re-engineering actually results in high quality work product. Finally, they proved that the “New Normal” need not mean the end of life as we know it.
  • Is SharePoint the key?Both Baker Donelson and Littler Mendelson use SharePoint. However, Littler will move away from SharePoint for their next version.
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SharePoint Collaboration [LegalTech 2011]

SharePoint Collaboration Across Your Team. Panelists: Meredith L. Williams (Director of Knowledge Mangement at Baker, Donelson) and Steve Fletcher (Chief Information Officer at Parker Poe).

[These are my notes from LegalTech NY 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Agenda — Best practices for leveraging SharePoint across your firm; serving clients and adding firm value; what they’ve learned NOT to do; design and development option.
  • Using SharePoint for Practice & Industry Teams — Baker Donelson is using SharePoint 2007, but are moving to SP 2010. They have 30 practice & industry teams. Each team appoints knowledge management lawyers who assist with KM projects, including maintaining the resources for the SharePoint site. (Each team has a SharePoint site. The sites are different, depending on the needs of the relevant team.) The sites provide acess to a bank of standard form documents, sample work product search (via West KM), sample clause & defined term search, and practice guides.
  • Cross-Department & Practice Group Teams — While not every Parker Poe practice group was interested in building and maintaining an SP site, several teams have found SP sites to be powerful tools. (Teams are multidisciplinary groups focused on a particular issue (e.g., health care reform, green buildings, etc.)
  • Efficiency Tools — Baker Donelson uses Deal Builder/ Contract Express to put together document drafting packages, They have also created expertise location tools that allow lawyers to identify their own expertise and locate other experts. They also have created a training platform that provides training materials (including podcasts, slides, case law, practice guides, additional resources) to lawyers within the firm and direct to clients. These materials are created and maintained by the lawyers themselves.
  • Staffing — Baker Donelson does not have a large dedicated SP staff. Instead, the small KM group teams with the three web developers in the It department to create materials that can be maintained by the lawyers themselves. One of these web developers is entirely dedicated to creating and maintaining key SP workflow. Parker Poe’s SP deployment was their first experience of portala. To begin, they created a cross-department team to create and the SP site. This team included IT, Marketing and the Library. Marketing helped with the look and feel and planned the formal launch of the portal. They worked with XMLaw to plan and carry out the initial deployment. Parker Poe now has a dedicated SP administrator
  • Information Governance — the Baker Donelson KM team is responsible for governance. All materials are housed in their original silos to ensure security, ethical walls, and accessibility for legal holds.
  • Client-Facing Sites — Parker Poe started with their Resort Hospitality team site. The site includes tips for clients, info on new Portal resources, industry news and events, information on new client matters, they included links to 10, 000 documents in an iManage folder. Once they heard that lawyers in the team were showing it to clients and getting rave reviews, they created a related client-facing site that provides information on a location-specific basis. For example, a location-specific site includes information on local resources, weather, news, legislation, local contacts, documents relating to that location. They gave HubbardOne XMLaw OneView Extranet 60 days to create the client-facing site.
  • Client-Team Sites — Baker Donelson has automated workflow whereby the moment a new matter is opened, that triggers the creation of an internal SP site that includes every piece of information they have relating to the client and matter. Sample content: client contact information (drawn from Interaction), working with Monitor Suite; they provide a live feed of public information showing the practice trends of that client. The client-facing view of the client service team site shows: a real-time view of the matter calendar; information on external experts involved in the case; Baker Donelson created a litigation hold management system for the client and mapped the client’s data workflow (each node on the map is linked to a wiki that is populated by Baker Donelson lawyers, thereby creating transparency into matter documents).
  • Management Dashboard — Baker Donelson has created a dashboard to provide an overview on top clients and top prospective clients.
  • Legal Project Management — Baker Donelson is using their SP portal to help run their LPM effort. They have a project management office to run their administrative projects AND a Legal Project Management Office that helps manage legal matter. They created a template that helps generate a project site that integrates models, samples, budget information (including actuals) using the Budget Manager tool,
  • External Toolkits — Baker Donelson has created toolkits for clients: Board of Directors toolkit, IPO toolkit. Among the resources, they provide access to model and sample documents, as well detailed legislative resources. Many of the resources are populated by wikis maintained directly by lawyers within the firm. These are built in basic SP (like the internal sites) and are sold to clients on a subscription basis.
  • Lessons Learned — Assemble the right cross-departmental team to plan, deploy and maintain the portal; create diverse test groups and use them; test before release and then test again; don’t force adoption — pull them in with relevant information that’s quick and easy to find; identify your authoritative source of data (e.g., Active Directory) and make sure the data is clean and reliable; make sure the content is refreshed frequently — especially on the home page; start with critical low-hanging fruit to drive traffic and usage (e.g., HR data and financial data)
  • Design & Development — interview users and create pilot groups to guide the design process. They in turn will become portal advocates. Many users are now looking for more personalized interfaces — this presents new design challenges. It is also a departure from the cookie cutter SP sites many firms provided before.
  • Metrics — Be sure to monitor everything down to individual links. It’s important to know what is being used, when it is used and by whom.
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Collaboration for Good

In a world of fierce competition, it’s marvelous to hear of instances of active cooperation and collaboration that make a positive difference in the lives of others. During this National Pro Bono Week, I’ve been learning more about the truly impressive work of a nonprofit organization call Pro Bono Net. This innovative, award-winning organization uses technology to increase access to justice in the United States and Canada. As effective as they are, the need for their services keeps growing. According to an American Bar Association study cited by Pro Bono Net, “at least 40% of low and moderate-income households experience a legal problem each year. Yet studies show that the collective civil legal aid effort is meeting only about 20% of the legal needs of low-income people.”

By connecting and leveraging networks of volunteer lawyers and public interest groups with the millions of people who need legal services but can’t afford them, Pro Bono Net is transforming the legal landscape.  In existence for just over 10 years, it’s clear that the impact of Pro Bono Net is real:

  • Their oldest program, probono.net is a rich online resource of the materials volunteer lawyers need to provide effective legal assistance to their pro bono clients.  This program has a membership of 65,000 pro bono and public interest lawyers who use it to find and volunteer for pro bono cases, and then rely on the  educational resources made available through the site to ensure the representation they provide is effective.
  • LawHelp.org is the site Pro Bono Net has created for clients.  It is “an online resource that helps low and moderate-income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, answers to questions about their legal rights, court information, links to social service agencies, and more. This resource was built and is maintained in partnership with hundreds of legal aid, pro bono and court-based programs….” According to Pro Bono Net, LawHelp is visited by 4 million people each year.
  • LawHelp Interactive uses the power of document assembly to help unrepresented people create and complete legal documents without the need to hire a lawyer. Subject matter experts create interview templates that are then “used to assemble court forms and other legal documents based on a user’s input. The system increases opportunities for self-represented litigants to achieve justice on their own and improves efficiency for legal aid, pro bono and courts-based access to justice programs.” The documents focus on areas of real need such as child support, protection orders for victims of domestic violence, consumer debt and eviction. In 2009, LawHelp Interactive helped unrepresented clients complete 150,000 document.  In the first six months of 2010 alone, they have completed 100,000 documents.  This fantastic trajectory is part of the reason why LawHelp Interactive won the College of Law Practice Management’s 2010 InnovAction Award.
  • Pro Bono Manager is an innovative web application that helps law firms efficiently manage, support and expand their pro bono practice.  It replaces ad hoc, homegrown efforts within law firms with a thoughtfully-organized platform that “integrates content from the public interest legal community regarding training events, volunteer opportunities and news with powerful reporting, knowledge management and lawyer matching tools that draw on data from the law firm’s internal personnel, billing, time keeping and docketing systems.” To date, Pro Bono Manager is in use by 10 leading international firms and, through them, by the 7,200 lawyers within those firms.

While there are many wonderful stories of lives changed for the better through individual instances of pro bono representation, I must admit that I was drawn to Pro Bono Net because it puts into practice what fortunate knowledge managers learn every day about the power of networks, collaboration and knowledge management.  Through the innovative use of enabling technology, Pro Bono Net puts people in touch with people, and then empowers all of them by providing a huge knowledge base.   In the process, they help lawyers achieve the high professional goal of acting in the public good and help the change lives of their pro bono clients.

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I’d like to extend my thanks to Michael Mills (Vice Chair of the Board of Pro Bono Net) and Pam Weisz (Pro Bono Net’s Director of Corporate Sponsorship) for helping me learn more about Pro Bono Net. If you’d like to learn more, I’d encourage you to watch one or both of the informative and inspiring videos Pro Bono Net provides on its website.

Finally, I’d like to thank Kate Bladow.  It was her campaign that led me to pledge to write a blog post about pro bono work during National Pro Bono Week.  Kate is gathering all the resulting blog posts on the technola blog.  If you read them you’ll find instant inspiration.

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Collaboration’s ROI

Collaboration is like motherhood and apple pie.  Who will publicly say that it’s a bad thing?  Nevertheless, many knowledge workers have private work habits that inhibit collaboration.  Further many of their organizations don’t do enough to change these behaviors.  Why?  In many cases, because they have not yet realized the enormous benefits that can accrue to an organization that fosters collaboration.

Not convinced?  Looking for some hard numbers?  Take a look at these results from Cisco’s implementation of Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies in fiscal year 2008:

  • US$691 million saved
  • 4.9 %  increased productivity
  • The technology investments, which cost US$81 million to deploy, provided a 900 % return on investment (ROI).

Now your firm may not be as large as Cisco and you may not have the same access to state of the art technology or a workforce that is tech friendly.  Nonetheless, wouldn’t even a fraction of Cisco’s ROI be welcome at your firm?  Further, wouldn’t your firm benefit from improvements in the way information and expertise are shared among employees, customers and partners. What more do you need by way of incentives?

If you’re interested in learning more about how Cisco used Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies to achieve these impressive results, read their guide,  Creating a Collaborative Enterprise (PDF), which explains their framework for achieving collaboration with significant ROI.

[Thanks to John Tropea and Oscar Berg for letting me know about this resource.]

[Photo Credit:  Bee-side]

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The Dark Side of Collaboration

Every group has its mantra. “Four legs good, two legs bad”  helped underscore the proper social and political order in Animal Farm.  For proponents of social media behind the firewall, the mantra has been “Collaboration good, silos bad.” Like motherhood and apple pie, collaboration is one of those things it’s hard to criticize  — until you meet the dark side of collaboration.

What’s the dark side of collaboration?  Collaboration done badly.  Here’s what McKinsey has to say on this issue in their article, Using Technology to Improve Workforce Collaboration:

Unfortunately, the productivity measures for collaboration workers are fuzzy at best. For production workers, productivity is readily measured in terms of units of output; for transaction workers, in operations per hour. But for knowledge workers, what might be thought of as collaboration productivity depends on the quality and quantity of interactions occurring. And it’s from these less-than-perfectly-understood interactions that companies and national economies derive important benefits. Consider the collaborative creative work needed to win an advertising campaign or the high levels of service needed to satisfy public citizens. Or, in a similar vein, the interplay between a company and its customers or partners that results in an innovative product.

Raising the quality of these interactions is largely uncharted territory. Taking a systematic view, however, helps bring some of the key issues into focus. Our research suggests that improvements depend upon getting a better fix on who actually is doing the collaborating within companies, as well as understanding the details of how that interactive work is done. Just as important is deciding how to support interactions with technology—in particular, Web 2.0 tools such as social networks, wikis, and video. There is potential for sizeable gains from even modest improvements. Our survey research shows that at least 20 percent and as much as 50 percent of collaborative activity results in wasted effort. And the sources of this waste—including poorly planned meetings, unproductive travel time, and the rising tide of redundant e-mail communications, just to name a few—are many and growing in knowledge-intense industries. [emphasis added]

If you continue to read the McKinsey article, you’ll learn about their recommendations for matching tools with types of collaboration work, thereby reducing wasted collaborative activity.  But even as you think about improving the quality of collaboration, you need to remember the emergent essence of Enterprise 2.0 tools and strategies:

Furthering collaboration excellence demands mind-sets and capabilities that are unfamiliar and sometimes even counterintuitive to many business managers. It requires trusting your collaboration workers to arrive at creative solutions rather than enforcing top-down policies. Business managers should allow time and provide forums for collaboration workers to brainstorm solutions to productivity problems. Corporate technology providers will need to provide tools that are flexible enough to enable experimentation, so that usage and adoption are widespread.  [emphasis added]

As you roll out your new Enterprise 2.0 tools, pay careful attention to their impact on collaboration.  Have you provided the means for knowledge workers to experiment and create more productive collaboration?  Or do your systems lead to activity that is no more than wasted effort?

[Photo Credit:  gonzalo ar]

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You Can Lead A Horse

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it … collaborate.

That was my initial reaction when I read Michael Sampson’s post, Who Owns “Collaboration” in Your Firm? He describes ownership of collaboration in the following ways:

  • has the responsibility for analyzing work processes and recommending ways of improving those through collaboration technology.
  • has the responsibility for analyzing specific collaboration technologies and recommending or deciding on which ones to use.
  • has the responsibility for helping staff use new collaboration technology effectively in their work.

The reality is that while it might be tempting for the KM, IT or HR departments to start explaining to other departments how to collaborate, offering those explanations is a far cry from actually initiating meaningful collaboration.  Collaboration occurs when people are ready to collaborate — not a minute before.  For collaboration truly to take hold, you need people in each area of the firm who approach their work with a collaborative mindset.  This means people who are willing to give up some turf and even credit for good ideas in order to foster teamwork for the benefit of the enterprise generally.  Without these kinds of people, it’s very hard to achieve any meaningful collaboration — regardless of the brilliance of the collaboration plans offered by your collaboration owners or consultants.

[Photo Credit:  tibchris]

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Persistence Pays

Persistence pays … when applied correctly.

We all know someone who just keeps at you like a battering ram until you throw up your hands and agree to whatever they are asking. This application of persistence is not dissimilar to the modus operandi of many three-year olds. It may provide short-term benefits, but it invariably takes a toll on relationships and may well jeopardize long-term gains.

By contrast, there is the story I heard recently of how a friend of mine (a knowledge manager at another law firm) obtained the cooperation of the head of his firm’s technology committee who had become a roadblock to necessary change. At issue was integrating into a single user interface the firm’s intranet with an enterprise search tool. My friend made his case to the partner and asked nicely for cooperation. It was not forthcoming. So, my friend waited a while (presumably checked his own assumptions to confirm they were correct) and then went back a second time. No dice. My friend is famous for his persistence, so he went back a third time and was successful.

What made the difference? Here are my observations: It wasn’t a typical battering ram approach. Rather, between the second and third visits, my friend worked on his relationship with his colleague. In a natural (not manipulative) way, he got to know his colleague better. And, his colleague got to know him better. As a result, when that third conversation occurred, each had a deeper understanding of the other’s concerns and in the process put more capital in the bank of their relationship. This foundation allowed the partner to step aside and permit the proposed change, despite his own misgivings.

When seeking collaboration or cooperation, it is not enough merely to be persistent or to impose your views through sheer determination. By doing so, you undercut the very ground on which collaboration is based. Rather, take the time to establish understanding and trust with your proposed collaboration partner. We’ve heard time and again how critical trust is to collaboration. It’s equally important for good professional relationships which, in turn, are critical to your success.

So be persistent … at building trust. You’ll reap the benefits sooner than you imagine.

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Innovation is a Team Sport

A recent New York Times article touted the benefits of collaborating to innovate. Debunking the myth of the lone genius who creates in solitude, the article suggests that the best innovation comes about through collaboration — where many people and perspectives intersect to create and refine ideas. However, it isn’t enough just to put a group of people in a room and ask them to brainstorm. In fact, according to the article, brainstorming is not nearly as productive as we’d like to believe. Instead of asking folks to “solve a problem” or “devise a new strategy” (favorite brainstorming topics), the better path is “systematic inventive thinking” in which the participants are asked to identify products and processes that work, break those down into their components, and then think about how those components can be put to other productive uses.

When I read this description of systematic inventive thinking, I realized that it appeared to share some of the principles of appreciative inquiry, which encourages us to build on our strengths. What a difference from the traditional approach of focusing on what does not work! (In a prior post I talked about the benefits of asking What Went Right rather than What Went Wrong?) Further, when you ask a group to focus on what’s good, you stand a better chance of avoiding some of the negative dynamics that emerge in problem-solving sessions such as refusing to speak up out of fear of failure or a desire to hoard ideas.

Whether you attempt innovation in solitary confinement or through a group process, research has shown that innovation isn’t a flash in the pan. According to Keith Sawyer, a professor of psychology and education and author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration:

Innovation today isn’t a sudden break with the past, a brilliant insight that one lone outsider pushes through to save the company …. Just the opposite: innovation today is a continuous process of small and constant change, and it’s built into the culture of successful companies.

So what would it take to build innovation into the culture of your company? Sawyer believes that even the lone genius is part of a wider web of ideas and people — the people the genius talks to, the people who write the things the genius reads, etc. This suggests that a company that wants a robust innovation culture has to build robust social networks that facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas.

How can knowledge management help? KM knows all about social networks and social media tools. KM knows how to reduce information silos and enable information sharing. KM knows how to foster collaboration. We’ve often said that the whole point of knowledge management is innovation. With this focus on group genius, it’s becoming clearer how the things that knowledge management does well can be deployed to build a vibrant culture of innovation within every company.

[Thanks to Kevin O’Keefe at LexBlog for pointing out this article.]

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Collaboration — All or Nothing?

In my prior post on Culture and Technology, I talked about the need to match carefully the social media tools you are offering in your law firm knowledge management program with the organizational culture of your firm. Now we need to go a little deeper. Many discussions on this topic treat collaboration in a binary fashion — either you’ve got collaboration or you don’t. And, if you don’t, you get a free pass on deploying social media tools. In reality, your choices are not just wide open collaboration or nothing. As Andrew Gent points out in his post, The Alternatives to Collaboration, there are several ways of working that result in productivity. We need to be sure we take account of all of these and provide the appropriate tools.

Here’s how he identifies two different modes of working that are alternatives to open collaboration:

Conspiring is very common among senior contributors within a team. Conspiring is simply a form of collaboration where the”community” is limited, usually to select members who the contributor trusts. Rather than speak out or agree during meetings, this individual will seek out others who they feel will understand and appreciate their contribution and work with those people to flesh out their ideas. They may even strategize privately about how to bring the rest of the team “around” to their way of thinking. (This is the conspiratorial part of the equation.)

[…]

Competing, on the other hand, happens out in the open. Competing is founded on two basic assumptions:

  • Ideas reached by consensus are not necessarily the best ideas. Rather, they are ideas that sound most agreeable or that provide the least resistance to current conditions (in other words, ruffle as few feathers as possible).
  • By openly pursuing multiple approaches in parallel, you can test more possibilities and (the key to competing) inspire each group to reach farther and develop a more complete and creative solution.

If you have wide open, top to bottom collaboration, then you’re closest to the internet model of social networks and should be able deploy the standard tools (e.g., blogs, wikis, forums, distribution lists) with minimal adjustment for the realities of corporate life. If you have a significant number of productive “conspirators” then you need tools that allow wide open collaboration within this very small group of trusted colleagues (e.g., IM, limited access wikis and blogs). For competitors, you need to provide a forum where they can battle their way to victory (e.g., open access wikis, microblogging).

By acknowledging that collaboration may not be possible for all, you give yourself permission to identify other productive ways of working within your law firm. Once you understand how these other methods work, you’re better placed to introduce effective social media tools that fit neatly with established modes of working. This requires moving from a monolithic view of organizational culture to a much more nuanced one. Done correctly, this should result in higher adoption rates within the various sub-groups that exist and thrive within your law firm. Do this with enough sub-groups and you’ll have reached enterprise 2.0 nirvana.

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Getting Serious About Collaboration

A large number of professionals in knowledge management appear to have drunk the kool-aid regarding the value of collaboration. And now, collaboration is the latest buzzword tripping off the tongues of academics, activists, reformers, consultants and web 2.0 vendors. That many people can’t be wrong, can they?

Perhaps it’s time each collaboration advocate put their money where their mouth is. Now is the time to collaborate on a project worth doing. And what is currently the most critical BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) we could address? How about finding a viable way to achieve a sensible bailout of the US economy? (Is that big enough for you?)

There has been a complete failure of leadership in Washington. Given where we are in the US political calendar, it will take a great deal of leadership and goodwill for politicians of both parties to abandon any perceived election year advantages to help each other (and the world) to a sensible solution. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be optimistic about this after the empty theatrics of the last week.

So how could the rest of us model good collaborative behavior to address the economic crisis? We could, for example, create an “open source” solution for a Better Bailout. How about a wiki to collect and refine the best proposals for reforming and restoring the US economy? What if anyone with a positive contribution to make were able to participate? Could we harness the energies and intellect of a world-wide community to solve this problem?

Clearly, not all of us have the training to conceive effective solutions to the complicated problems presented by the current economic crisis. However, I’ve got to believe that somewhere in our respective social networks, we have friends or acquaintances who could add value to such an effort. Perhaps those of us who did not get past Economics 101 could make our contribution to the solution by recruiting to the effort capable people with the requisite integrity, training and freedom from partisan rancor to make a meaningful contribution.

If you’re happy with the job your representatives are doing in Washington, feel free to sit this out. If, however, you’d like to see a solution that deals honestly and fairly with the US taxpayer who has to foot the bill, now is the time to get involved. And, if you really believe in the power of collaboration, now is the time to prove its value.

[If you’d like to participate in A Better Bailout, e-mail BetterBailout@gmail.com.]

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