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Jul 18, 2013

As organizations become more matrixed, employees are sharing more responsibilities, authority, and accountability than ever before.

While informal working relationships and networks have always been important, getting work done today requires more collaboration among a broader and more diverse set of people who may also be working across geographic locations.

Work is now done through a web of collaborating knowledge where employees have more ambiguous objectives, and their work is interconnected with a growing, more dispersed network. Employees must navigate across different structures, cultures, and processes to perform, but they struggle to understand whom to work with and how to work with them.

Enabling and encouraging networks

Yet if collaboration is to occur, companies need to enable and encourage broader employee networks — connecting employees as needed and providing clear direction, aligned incentives, integrated workflow, and better technology.

The new high performers are immune to the complexities of change, are willing to collaborate, and are able to apply judgment in an increasingly knowledge-based role. Unfortunately, while most knowledge workers know how to manage work processes and use technology and tools in their work, the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), finds that less than 40 percent have the analytical skills and business judgment needed to use the tools effectively in decision making.

Organizations need to create opportunities for employees to learn essential collaboration and analytic skills by reengineering the work environment to better promote learning on the job.

4 steps to increase development

While this is a challenging task, the CEB suggests focusing on specific steps to increase on-the-job development:

  • Design stretch roles to achieve development goals and business results. Employees learn best in real work situations that require direct skill application. Define projects where analytic and collaborative skills are essential to success and designate them as on-the-job learning opportunities. Select projects with high levels of stretch, accountability, and visibility for the employee — the more important and riskier the role, the stronger the incentive will be to learn.
  • Use “connectors” to transfer network building and collaboration skills. Identify your best collaborators and use them to teach others how to network, build relationships, influence decisions, and manage collaborative projects. Have them document key relationships and help transfer “network knowledge” from project to project.
  • Use “Informed Skeptics” to teach how to apply judgment in work. Identify employees with the strongest decision-making skills—those who bring a critical eye to analytic tasks, analyze data, use their intuition, and apply judgment. Use these Informed Skeptics to model the correct approaches to decision making on the job. Task them specifically with coaching less capable team members and rotate them across key projects.
  • Manage both learning and work activities on key projects. Learning needs to be intentional and built into projects. Emphasize learning alongside the project’s core activities and hold managers accountable for ensuring the following steps are taken:
    1. Identify learning opportunities and goals before a project begins;
    2. Assess learning during a project; and,
    3. Reflect on skill development and next steps at the project’s completion.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.