Wikipedia.org has generated a lot of buzz for wikis. It has also shown that this cool software tool can be put to some good use. But so far wikis have not been used by enterprises for commercial purposes.
Is there use of wikis in the business world? The answer is an emphatic YES!
What is a wiki?
http://www.wikipedia.com/ defines wiki as a website that allows visitors to add, remove, and edit content.
According to http://www.wiki.org/, wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser.
Lastly, the Australian government has defined wiki as a website or similar online resource which allows users to add and edit content collectively.
No matter which definition you like, a wiki provides its users the ability to use their web browser to work on the same document asynchronously. This is analogous to having Microsoft Word on the net with all the editing and tracking features to boot. A wiki is a web enabled blackboard where everybody and their brother have a box full of chalk!
However, sticking with the definition of the software would take our attention away from its true capability. That is also the reason why corporations have not yet found a use for this indispensable tool!
A wiki is the ultimate collaboration tool. Is there need for collaboration in an enterprise?
Why use a wiki?
As you can imagine, this is a rhetorical question. Team performance improves dramatically if they collaborate. Corporations spend untold sums of money trying to find the holy grail of collaboration.
There are an unlimited uses for wiki in a corporation. From keeping online policies that can be easily updated to creating a knowledgebase of frequently asked questions or key procedures, a wiki should be ubiquitous in any organization of any size.
But we would still miss the essence of this powerful tool if we did not connect its capability with a key leadership challenge: getting the buy-in of their teams
Wiki has two key capabilities not found in other collaboration tools:
- Asynchronous: Users can work on the document on their own time. All changes are tracked and there is capability to have a discussion on them
- Anonymous: Well, almost! The software can provide users the ability to remain anonymous to other users.
A team that believes in the leaderships direction is an unbeatable team. They can and do accomplish the impossible. However, getting a team to believe is not only the single biggest objective of a leader but also her biggest challenge because belief and trust do not come easily.
Seldom, if ever, is there an opportunity for a leader to have an open and honest dialogue with their team.
- This is especially true with large teams where time and logistics prevent it
- How do tens or hundreds of people talk and listen at the same time?
- How do you capture this conversation so everybody remembers what was said and has the benefit of afterthought and/or hindsight?
- How do you communicate this collective thinking and/or agreements and/or disagreements for everyone to discuss again?
- Where the culture does not permit and/or foster free communications
- How does one get the team to overcome their fear of speaking in public?
- How does one get a team, especially the lower rungs, to talk back to their CxO?
These hurdles are even higher for issues that are abstract and/or controversial and/or widespread in their occurrence or impact.
A wiki has unique capabilities that help overcome these hurdles.
- The asynchronous features allow an unlimited number of users to talk and listen to each other at the same time. Their conversation is documented and this living document allows for unlimited afterthought and the benefit of hindsight.
- The anonymous feature allows people to speak freely to their peers and the leader. Of course, the leader has to ensure this anonymity and a policy of non-retaliation
What are some practical examples of using wiki to solve leadership challenges?
Previously, I referred to wiki as a collaboration tool. I misspoke! Wiki is the ultimate leadership tool for it helps the leader and her team gel. This bond is based on open and honest communication and the resulting trust is creates enduring business value.
Here are some examples of the kinds of challenges you face as a leader and how wiki can help you overcome them:
1) Visioning: Often CxOs live in a bubble. Their vision statement is disconnected with reality. People who know do not tell them for fear of retribution. More importantly, their knowledge strengthens their cynicism and prevents them from believing in this vision. Needless to say, the execution against this vision does not rise to the level of the team. A wiki can help create a single and consistent vision that connects top down priorities with bottom up reality. This is then not the boss pipe dream but the teams vision
a. Organization Vision Statement: a wiki for the team to create a vision statement
b. Project Charter: a wiki for key projects where the team can collectively decide and/or contribute on the objectives, scope, assumptions etc. for the project
2) Problem Solving: Sometimes problems are not solved because they are not clearly or accurately defined. Unfortunately, complex problems have many definitions. Each person with a view is convinced about theirs. People and agendas further add roadblocks to this effort. That is what prevents their solution. A wiki can help create a single, consistent definition of a problem that the team can then work on solving.
a. CxO Watchlist: a wiki for the team to post items they believe pose the greatest risk to the organization. Whether it is a big project that is failing and is being covered up or some controls being circumvented, this is a critical tool to uncover the iceberg before it is too late!
b. CxO suggestion box: a wiki for the team to post ideas on improving the organization
3) Documentation: An organizations policies and procedures are often not well documented and/or incomplete. They are also hard to keep updated so invariably they are out of date. In and of itself this is a big problem that is costing organizations big bucks in lost productivity. However, the elephant in the room is the process for creating viable policies and procedures. Usually, a limited number of people participate in creating them so they miss the all important perspective of the employees of the organization. This perspective not only helps complete the picture in content terms but also provides invaluable feedback in the process. This feedback strengthens the policies and procedures and ensures their communication, understanding and most importantly, compliance.
a. Policies and procedures manual: a wiki of key policies and procedures where the team reflects its collective understanding of the same
b. Knowledgebase: a wiki that captures organizational learning so we minimize reinventing the wheel. Over time, this knowledge should be encapsulated in the organizations policies, processes and procedures
4) Definitions: Organizations, especially big ones, are comfortable thinking that every employee knows and thinks the same way. Of course, everyone has the same definition of customer. Unfortunately, the this could not be farther from the truth. Employees might be saying one thing and their listener hearing another. This lack of communication can have a dramatic negative impact on productivity. Every organization needs a well documented dictionary.
a. Organizational dictionary and thesaurus: a wiki of key terms used within the organization
b. Project dictionary and thesaurus: a wiki of key terms used on a project, especially large ones whose team comprises of people from multiple functions and/or divisions
The leader is in charge not subservient to the tool
At times, it might appear that the wiki will help the crowds take over. That collective wisdom or group think will overpower leadership instinct. That herd mentality would make the far more prevalent mediocrity dethrone the lonely innovative thought.
All of the above will happen if you let it. The challenge for the leader has always been channeling group thinking, fostering innovation and ensuring success by following your instinct. Now, you are not doing it in a vacuum. Now, you are sure that your decisions are the best and all yours to make.
Most importantly, now you know that your team is completely behind you because even though they might disagree, they respect you for hearing them out and know that you are the leader for a reason and that your decisions are final and binding.
And if the team does not know this, it is your, the leaders, fault. For you must use the same forum and processes to communicate to the team that you are in charge; that the time for thinking is over and the time for action has started; that the latter demands execution not second guessing.
Do you have the appetite for it?
As a leader of the pack, you have to bear the burden on making this vision a success. It has obvious advantages. But there are obvious consequences of free and open dialogue. If it succeeds, truth might hurt in unimaginable ways. If you resist then it will fail and leave you, the leader with deep wounds and mistrust that will take a long time to overcome.
Previously, I said that wiki is the ultimate leadership tool. I forgot to mention that it doubles as a shovel. If not used with care, it will bury you, the leader!
So, before you wiki, make sure you have the stomach for it and that the shovel is pointing the other way!
Sourabh Hajela is a management consultant and trainer with over 20 years of experience creating shareholder value for his Fortune 50 clients. His consulting practice is focused on IT strategy, alignment and ROI. For more information, please visit http://www.startsmarts.com/. Or feel free to contact Sourabh at [email protected]