Collaboration within medium and large organizations typically falls under a pull model: collaborating to pull knowledge out of the network to get a job done. Simple, basic collaboration, often driven more by technology vendors than by our own prescribed needs.

A push model, however, is a more advanced form of collaboration. People don't just consume knowledge in the network, they constantly look for ways to improve and build on it. Pushing it out into the open for others to leverage, advancing it for the next person who needs it, making it more valuable to the organization as a whole.

Are you a push or a pull collaborator? And how can we encourage push collaboration within the workplace?

The Pull of 'Pull' Collaboration

Why do we collaborate? What drives us to work together to meet goals? 

At an elemental level, and from my own experience — getting the job done. Finding and using knowledge that you don’t have on hand, to meet our objectives. 

It's called pull collaboration for good reason — how quickly can I pull information when I need it? And share with others when they pull? The "me," the individual always remains the focus — how can I pull knowledge to better meet my manager's expectations.

Most organizations attempting to develop collaborative behaviors are at this point. And while it gets the job done, it isn't enough.

To thrive in today’s work environment, just getting the job done and the culture of "me" won't cut it. We are working in a climate of near constant change. Management rely more and more on the cumulative intellectual capital of their workforce. This will not grow and flourish in an environment of pull collaboration.

Long Term Thinking

Unlike when our typical business structures and hierarchies evolved over 100 years ago, we now have a workforce of experts. Every one of us is an expert and we have different experiences that actually matter. 

And that is why push collaboration becomes important — it’s where we collaborate to improve our knowledge, to constantly look to the future — not just for the short term, the here and now. We need to challenge our limits, to always be improving the knowledge in the network, not just share it.

So why do we get stuck in basic collaboration mode?

A lot of it comes down to our behaviors. Or more accurately, the fear of sticking our neck out in case of criticism. So we take the soft option and bunker down, only using the collaboration tools when we have to, on an as-needs basis.

But it's also about the tools. Collaboration tools struggle to blend longer-term structured knowledge with short-term, fast moving conversations. Tools are rolled out, and and we use them as best we can, usually without business vision or guidance. After all, they are called collaboration tools — that's what they do, so we use them to help us do our jobs. Simple, right?

This sets the bar too low.

The 'us' of 'Push' Collaboration

But what if our goal wasn't just getting a job done? What if the end result wasn't about "me," but was about the greater organization, the "us"? 

Pushing knowledge onto the network and continuously improving it results in new and surprising ideas. What if the end game was about how we innovate?

Push collaboration is not just knowledge sharing, it's innovation in action. Improving on knowledge, speeding it up, challenging it and looking for opportunities to use it elsewhere. And the most critical component: connecting it to new and diverse people.

So how do you change the driver to collaborate from a personal need to a bigger organizational goal? It can be done — here are a few simple behaviors to target which can move your people from pull to push collaborators:

  • We are task focused, that is, our work is about the effective delivery of an end product rather than a point in a process
  • We are proactive in contributing to discussions, whether on collaboration tools or in-person
  • We recognize the contributions of others — provide feedback on how their contribution has helped us, or how it may help others. Or even just thank them for sharing to make them feel great!
  • We challenge our assumptions on a piece of knowledge — we follow the scent of knowledge to proactively find out more
  • We look for opportunities to improve the knowledge — we look to see where it may be applied elsewhere, or look elsewhere to see what lessons can be learned

The biggest obstacle to the above is the environment we work in — which sometimes discourage this kind of behavior. Failure to empower workers to act in this way stops 'push' collaborating in its tracks. And this is the hardest part — organizations still want to unleash the diversity of thought from their staff throughout.

Taking these steps can help. As does implementing communities and community management. Good community management is all about moving and improving the knowledge — which describes push collaboration.

But until we are encouraged, and feel safe to do so, collaboration will remain about me, myself and I.