Collaboration vs. Privacy – A Setting in Sofia

As many of you know, Sofia has several social media-like sharing functions. One function is participation in a “community of practice” type of environment. This community is for general purpose questions and discussions and it is based on the model of a Facebook wall. Another function is for the sharing of learnings that come from doing the Actions. In this feature, when someone completes an Action and records what was learned from the Action, that learning can be shared with anyone else who is working on or going to work on the same Action.

There is a choice for each participant in a program to turn a button on or off. They can decide to share or not share their learnings. We set the default for this button to share the learning because we were concerned that someone who is going through a self-directed program is inherently somewhat isolated, and we wanted to improve the impact of learning by biasing the system toward social participation. This decision, to bias toward inclusion, recently caused an interesting discussion with a client.

When this organization learned that the default on this button was set to sharing of recorded learning, they said that corporate policy was always to set the default to require an “opt in to sharing” and that we needed to change the default for them to protect individual privacy. This discussion exposed an important policy question.

In the 20 minutes preceding the discussion about the default setting for sharing, they had focused intensely on a problem they were having with insufficient cross-functional integration. Too much “silo thinking” was undermining their massive change program–a program that required a lot of collaboration. And the 30 minutes after the default setting discussion was also devoted to discussions of promoting collaboration. They clearly had an explicit goal to improve cross-functional integration and collaboration. This is pretty typical of most organizations these days – improved cross-functional collaboration is critical.

As may be apparent, there is a profound conflict between their policy to set the default to protect individual privacy and their organizational need to promote collaboration. Given the recent problems with Facebook and others misusing personal data, I can understand why organizations are super-conscious of not invading personal privacy. But does this extend to programs where privacy impedes the effectiveness of the collaboration needed to be successful as a business? Does it extend to situations when the content to be shared is not personal data per se but information relevant to the organization?

My first response was to support the privacy default, but then I got to thinking about the implications for this program and, more generally for organizational collaboration. If the default is set to protect people’s privacy, they must consciously decide to collaborate and physically change a switch to opt in, and I suspect that some people won’t do that. They may have genuine concerns about sharing their learnings, be too time pressured to change the switch or just not want to collaborate. Is it sensible to create barriers, even small ones, to collaboration when getting meaningful collaboration is already so difficult?

I came back to the importance of the default setting emphasizing sharing and collaboration. I think that the right thing to do is to set the default for sharing and collaboration and require people to make a conscious decision to not collaborate. Imagine now if someone decides consciously to not share their information and insights. What does that say about their commitment to the greater good of the organization?

I would certainly investigate why they didn’t want to collaborate, but if it was for anything less than a very substantive reason (say about confidential information), I would view them as not being aligned with the larger goal of collaboration. In today’s environment, for the type of programs typically included in Sofia, I would bias towards collaboration every time.

Where is your organization on the conflict between collaboration and protection of the individual?

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