Is an unwillingness to help stalling your project?

I came across an interesting problem today.

One of my project managers was endeavouring to unearth background information on a previously delivered project (I know lessons learned may have been a useful start…but nothing had been previously captured, nor documented).

During his investigations he had been directed to six people, all of whom had previously departed the particular business area for “greener pastures”. Surprisingly only one had recently left to commence a role with another firm, the remaining five had thankfully transferred internally.

He was confident that with so many people remaining within the company he would easily obtain the information he required.

After several days his efforts proved futile.

It appears that the names he had been were correct. Also that these people certainly had knowledge about the project. Unfortunately they were apparently reluctant to fully share the information.

The conversations that he had with them were kept brief and to the point (despite his efforts to extend). He attempted to set up meetings with them, but efforts to get them to commit any additional time (beyond the initial email and conversation) proved unsuccessful. Their unwillingness to help had the potential to stall his project!

After the fourth repeat of this issue, he enquired why. Ostensibly it was for selfish reasons. These people were under time pressures to perform their own jobs; so helping an external area actually had a negative impact on them directly and would result in them having to make up the lost time “in their own time”. So they declined to help any further.

In a nutshell they had no incentive whatsoever to help others outside of their own teams. It may of helped if they had a project code they could assign their time to (in the time recording system), but they didn’t.

As a last resort, he reluctantly approached the former employee (now with a new firm). Although this person was initially hesitant to share information, but he yielded after the project manager explained his predicament (plus the offer of a free lunch didn’t hurt). The project manager finally got the “low down” on the previously delivered project.

With so many organisations striving towards enterprise-wide collaboration, you would think that supportive behaviours would be encouraged. Unfortunately in this case, where the issue lies is with the potential provider of assistance and it proved detrimental to the project (only the helpful former employee saved the day).

If employees are only rewarded for individual or team performance then where does that leave the organisations collaborative endeavours or even facilitate knowledge sharing?

It is clear that employees need incentives to assist others outside of their immediate team or business area. What have been your experiences in averting an unwillingness to help?

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