In my previous post, I provided an extreme example of how critical to organization could be the loss of knowledge and expertise in some cases. Even though in many other, more usual cases, the loss would not be felt immediately, the cumulative effect could be more than an organization can allow itself to bear.
In order to discuss later how this negative effect could be reduced, let’s review what makes it so serious.
- First of all, some knowledge is undocumentable!
Most organizations try to document every process possible in a hope that every new guy on the job would be just handed stacks of technical information, either in printed or in electronic format, and that would be it. Even though I do not personally approve this approach, it does make sense in many cases – there is clearly a lot of information that could be passed in this form. Procedure protocols, lists of introduced changes, contacts list, examples of code, correspondence and many other types of documents could be pretty informative to a new employee, of course if presented in some systematic manner.
However, some knowledge is completely untransferable this way. The best example of this type of knowledge would be understanding how something works. Think about it – you can write a protocol about how to operate some equipment, and people who have no idea of how it works may even be able to operate it after reading the protocol, but what would they do if something goes wrong? We don’t call a technician every time the office printer breaks because there is always someone who understands enough about how it operates in order to just find where the paper got stuck. But what in regard to other, more complicated equipment or software? What happens when the person who leaves the organization is the one who installed the equipment or created the software? Can you document their understanding of both the general principles of operation and its little perks?
The answer is, regrettably, NO. This means that we have to accept that in some cases the loss of knowledge would be terminal if we count exclusively on technical documents as means of knowledge retention.
- The other problem is that not all people can work together!
It is so easy to label someone as “not a team player”, but the reality is that different teams require different players. Someone may have great social skills and still have problems entering the social structure of the new team simply for the reason of being too different. I’m not speaking here about severe cases of nepotism and ethnically based cliques in the workplace (though it does happen in some places), but more of having a different style of work or just having an eccentric personality. Or just being usual where everyone else is eccentric 🙂
The truth is that some people are just too different to work together, and it may take time for a Manager to understand it in a specific situation. This may well mean that someone would pass all the interviews, because he or she would be professional, confident and likeable and in a few months you’ll just have to start interviewing again.
In some cases, the problem is even more severe, because the people who’re leaving may have played a crucial social role in addition to their basic job description. Some people may not be the most successful and productive members of the team, but they serve as its social hubs, both internally (someone who people come to talk to when they have a problem) and externally (someone who has good connection to clients or other departments). When those people go – there is no replacing them until the new hubs are naturally created. But it takes time, which as we all know – nobody has enough 🙂
There are many other negative factors in constantly changing the people you’re working with, but these two are the most prominent. Now that we know about them, we will try to find some remedies, so look it up in my next posts 🙂
We the people are not “human resources”, and whoever treats us as pegs in a board will have problems.
Anya, this is spot on. Too frequent changes in your team members will be disruptive to the team’s performance. This is no so unusual occurrence when operating in matrix managed organizations, where the project manager is being ‘given’ resources by operational teams who can make a claim on these resources at any point in time. To a lesser degree, such disruptive power will also be present where the same resources are working on multiple assignments thus engaged in excessive multitasking.
Yep! The issue is that in fast-paced environment many managers miscomprehend the concept of working effectively and fast, thinking that “human capital” is subjected to the same rules as any other resource, that you might store, discard and use without any further investment whenever is needed. Well, that ain’t the case 🙂
So true Shim!
Matrix can be seen as perfect structure by engineers, but it also entails a number of serious disadvantages as you pointed it out.
The first remedy to that would be an understanding of those limitations, while unfortunately in reality many understand the theory, but aren’t prepared to deal with the issues matrix imposes.
As I was saying to Fungus, people are unlike any other resource…