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Reward Collaboration and Openness Over Individual Expertise

Tomorrow's Research

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Virtual work can create literal distance between knowledge and the people. Workers are left out and disengaged; performance is at risk when vital information isn’t flowing and people hesitate to ask for help virtually. Accidental communication is and always will be a part of how people learn and collaborate. 


The posting below looks at several of the challenges of working virtually and how to make such work more collaborative.  It is from Chapter 1 – Vital Mind-Set Shifts in a Mobile World in the book, Working Virtually: Transforming the Mobile Workplace by Trina Hoefling. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC 22883 Quicksilver Drive Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102. Copyright © 2017 by Stylus Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis


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Tomorrow’s Research

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Mind Shift #4: Reward Collaboration and Openness Over Individual Expertise


Esko Kilpi, founder and principal of a leading research and consulting firm working with the challenges of knowledge work and digital work environments, says, “The focus should now be on cooperation and emergent interaction based on transparency, interdependence and responsiveness. It really is a fast-and-loose world.” [3] Organizations are often well-connected digital networks, yet results prove teams aren’t fully maximizing collaboration. One leading inhibitor is the organization’s tendency to define a person’s value by how much expertise she holds. Hiring contingent workers encourages skill-based hiring, and it makes sense. At the same time, a competency plug-and-play approach to team formation is only one facet of hiring a well-balanced team. It implies our unique expertise increases our value because of what we alone know, more than sharing out wisdom does. It’s actually a disincentive to collaborate with the team. If a team member’s value depends on unique contribution, peers become competition, not allies. Workplace reward systems, compensation, and performance appraisal need to reward information sharing, not hoarding, and team performance as well as individual results. Examine and structure your systems for collaboration, not vicious, hidden cycles of built-in internal competition. 

Two Tenets to Enable Generosity and Openness 

Colocated work environments facilitate knowledge sharing, accidentally and simply by being present. Even in a mobile work world, knowledge is often shared due to proximity, timing, mentoring, or intentional alliances. Virtual work can create literal distance between knowledge and the people. Workers are left out and disengaged; performance is at risk when vital information isn’t flowing and people hesitate to ask for help virtually. Accidental communication is and always will be a part of how people learn and collaborate. 

Tenet 1: Look for Spontaneous Connections with Your Virtual Team 

Intentional knowledge sharing should be formally structured and rewarded, of course, but there is power in information sharing. In the emerging and boundary-crossing global workplace, with the hyperconnectedness of “smart” devices and shared apps, it’s easy to capture and share intelligence. It’s easy to start team chatter and cross-team conversations by facilitating informal and accidental learning while helping people get to know one another. Currently, most knowledge sharing is reliant on the manager to facilitate (and sometimes learning and development departments). Having managers be the conduit to the team is just too slow, unreliable, and costly. Does your organization rely on managers to cascade organization communication? For the informal manager, virtuality may have introduced new constraints to cascading organizational news. Are your virtual teams as well informed as those who work at a corporate office? 

Tenet 2: Structure Knowledge Sharing and Information Dissemination 

Time is of the essence to shift organizations toward open collaboration, rewarding team success over individual excellence. Corporate America is vulnerable. As far as I can tell, most companies are not managing knowledge sharing and organization wisdom capture well, even though they could. I facilitate in the board room and engage and listen in the trenches. I “hear” into executive thinking while also “seeing” into the belly of the operational beast. What I see is unsettling – scary misalignment between a networked organization’s strategic thinking and what gets rewarded in their everyday systems, processes, and management practices. 

Simply put, if performance management, appraisal, and pay remain individually focused (and, therefore, competitive at its core), all the best collaboration tools and training won’t be enough to get people to become part of high-performing teams. Authentic collaboration comes when people not only are technology enabled but also are connected to their team and care about team results as their first priority. They know if the team wins, everybody wins. 

Open sharing, passing wisdom on to others, fundamentally changes a culture. It won’t happen if it’s not mapped to how people are paid. Traditionally, people were rewarded based on rugged individualism, on their proprietary wealth of knowledge. Today, hoarding expertise is a barrier to virtual teams and organizations. Unintentional virtual worker ignorance because of poor virtual communication risks performance. If a networked collaborative mentality is to emerge organizationally, generous sharing must be rewarded. 

Boomers Are Taking Knowledge with Them When They Go 

Another organization issue is a frightening vulnerability. People are retiring, letting organization knowledge leave when they do. Right now, one-third of baby boomers, the organization wisdom keepers and experts, are eligible to retire. [4] If not actively managed now, much organization wisdom retires with them. I see strategic conversation, but not enough action. 

At the least, encourage people to generously pass along the wisdom. Much “work” contribution is primarily mental, not muscle. 

People Will Share What They Know – If

It shouldn’t “cost” workers to cooperate; rather, they should be rewarded for being nodes in the network, connectors and coaches. Financially reward it. Social network analysis can directly and objectively measure who is a valuable node in the organization. 

A robust knowledge management infrastructure also quickly enables people to access help when needed. Just as anyone can access a universe of knowledge through Google search, so should a virtual team member be able to access a wealth of organizational knowledge without leaving the workstation. Organizations that fail to technically integrate and culturally collaborate will never fully engage the workforce or unleash all the intelligence available. Too much will leave with the boomers. 

How organizations address training also changes in a collaborative organization, and more so when virtual. Training is no longer reserved for “learning events.” Information-rich employees become valued resources in the network – coaches and teachers. While classrooms and other synchronous training opportunities still have value, so does the need for continuous and readily available modular learning on demand, anytime, often online. MOOCs [5] and other on-demand learning portals [6] are primary learning resources, cutting T&D budgets or redirecting budgets to strategic leadership and talent development, while providing vast resources to employees.

Open, collaborative cultures unleash potential for dramatic expansion of organizational capability. Learning happens anytime through many modes. 

How does your organization encourage sharing and collaboration? 

How Do We Work Together if We’re Working Apart? 

Disengaged virtual workers are not only isolated but also dangerous. 

At the management level, if distributed team members do not have a clear sense of how their work “fits in” with the overall plan, they risk disengagement and missed performance metrics. Individual efforts run a greater risk of being misaligned with strategic priorities and team goals, regardless of how hard individuals may be working. I’ve facilitated heart-sinking conversations when the worker and manager both realize that the worker was not laying off work, but feverishly working in the wrong direction. Communication had broken down. 

Virtual work demands everyone’s commitment to communicating – listening and speaking up. How else will the team ensure everyone is working on the right track? This isn’t optional. The team depends on each other. Individually and collectively, the “virtual job” creates outputs that come from coordinating work, managing each other, negotiating competing priorities, and delivering team outcomes through coordinated efforts. Lead and communicate actively. Be a role model. Teamwork supports the adage that two brains are better than one. Workers who want to be part of high-performance teams also want a voice in defining the quality of their work lives and organizations. They want more than “just a job.” In order for any collection of individuals to function as a team that is able to respond, barriers need to fall between managers and employees, among the network of teams, across geography and culture, and within operations seeking efficiency while flexibly serving the customers. We’re in this together, communicating and connecting. 


3.    Stowe Boyd, “Esko Kilpi on the Architecture of Work,” interview published by Work Futures Institute on Medium,

4.    Dr. Tasha Eurich, “Generational Leadership,” Rocky Mountain Human Resource Professional Society, Denver University, Denver, CO, April 16, 2015 

5.    MOOCs are massive open online courses, such as MIT’s EdX online learning. 

6. is currently popular.