Thursday, 2 August 2012


When collaboration helps, when collaboration hinders


This is a very interesting paper from Martine Haas and Morten Hansen, which takes a scientific and statistical view of collaboration, and whether it actually helps performance or not.

Haas and Hansen looked at a series of bid teams, assessed how much they accessed documents from previous bids (which they called "codified knowledge"), and how much they received advice from experienced colleagues outside the team ("personal knowledge"). They then looked at bid success rates, to give an objective measure of the VALUE of the knowledge to the team.

Now, we might assume that the more Knowledge a team accesses, the better their performance?

Unfortunately it is not as simple as that.

The graphs shown here are the authors' conclusions about how much in knowledge helps to improve bid performance, in varying circumstances. In each graph, the vertical axes represents increasing bid success probability, the horizontal axis represents increasing amount of knowledge used, the black line is "codified knowledge" (reuse of documents) and the purple line represents "personal knowledge". If the lines rise from left to right, then increased knowledge is linked to increased chances of success. If they fall from left to right, then increased knowledge is linked to reduced success. Read the paper to understand the evidence behind these.

The top left graph (2i) represents a team which is inexperienced (and so has a high need to learn), working in a situation where they do not need to differentiate the bid significantly, so can deliver a fairly standard proposal. In this case, the more knowledge they use, the more documents they copy and the more experts they refer to, the better their chances of success.

The top right graph (2ii) represents a team which is inexperienced (and so has a high need to learn), but are working in a situation where they really need to differentiate the bid. Here it is a great idea to get input and knowledge from experienced colleagues, but the re-use of documents from previous bids is actually harmful to the chances of success.

The bottom right graph (2iii) represents a team which is experienced (and so has a low need to learn), and who are working in a situation where they really need to differentiate the bid. Again, it is a great idea to get input and knowledge from experienced colleagues, but the re-use of documents from previous bids is actually harmful to the chances of success.


The final graph at bottom left (2iv) represents a team which is experienced (and so has a low need to learn), and who are working in a routine situation where bid differentiation is not needed. In this case, they pretty much know what they are doing, and re-using any knowledge does more harm than good.

So what's the conclusion?

The conclusion is that collaboration, the re-use of documents or seeking input from others is not always going to help you, and in some cases it can hinder.

In most cases (3 out of the 4), the more input you get from colleagues the better, but also in  most cases (3 out of the 4), recycling documents from other teams will not help you perform better, and may even harm your chances of success.

So know your context, and choose a collaborative method that will actually help, not hinder.

1 comment:

David Hobbie said...

I've heard before that talking to a professional who has done the task is a good (the only?) way to improve work product quality, and that access to sample work product typically improves the speed / efficiency of work but not quality. This study confirms the "upside" of personal knowledge / collaboration, but also suggests that sample
work product can improve things for a team starting out at a low or unsophisticated level. Those other studies did not address the team's starting point, so this is a useful addition, thank you for sharing.

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