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The Break Room Refrigerator.

The mere mention of the phrase can bring thoughts of unspeakable horror. Leftovers that are weeks past their “throw out” date… containers that look like a chia-pet on the inside… unlabeled dishes from employees that have long since left the company.

All of us have worked at companies where there was a shared, group responsibility for keeping the refrigerator clean. And how does that usually go? Well, nobody is really clear on when it is supposed to be cleaned out. Everyone pretty much assumes that “someone else” will clean it out. And, in the end, it really only gets cleaned out when an individual gets so disgusted with what they find that they take it upon themselves to throw everything out and scrub the interior of the refrigerator (which, by the way, completely reinforces the bad behavior of the group).

I was working at a client site recently and I noticed they had a very nice break room. They had a dining area with booths, a sink, a couple of microwaves, and two refrigerators that were completely clean. When I commented to the employees about this phenomenon they had a clear explanation:

“Jim and Kate are responsible for keeping the refrigerators clean. They enlist the help of other employees to clean it out each week, and they do it every Friday at 4:00pm.”

The reason this company had such a nice refrigerator? They had a clear governance policy.

Now, let’s be honest, SharePoint governance is a topic that makes a lot of people nod off. It’s boring. It’s tough to get right because it involves the behavior of unpredictable human beings. It annoys coworkers that don’t like being told what to do. And the truth is, it’s never done. It always requires revisiting, revising, and vigilance in enforcement. But, just as our refrigerator story shows, there are clear benefits when we get it right and equally clear consequences when we don’t.

If you’re having trouble getting started with SharePoint governance in your company let me suggest that you take inspiration from the Break Room Refrigerator Governance Policy outlined above and adapt it to your SharePoint instance:

  • There has to be a team of people that are specifically responsible for governance. It should include parties from the IT department and the user community. They must meet on a regular basis to review what’s working and what isn’t.
  • There must be clearly defined benefits and consequences. Without this there will never be buy-in from the company management and its employees.
  • There must be clearly defined rules for usage. These rules must balance the need for users to get their jobs done; the need to meet the business rules and regulatory requirements for the company; and the need to maintain a manageable server environment.
  • There must be a regularly scheduled “clean up.” Cleanup may involve manual tasks, automated batch jobs, and even the governance features that are built into SharePoint (workflows, quotas, automatic site deletion, permissions, and so on).

Here’s a really useful link as you dig into governance:

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Governance Resources from the SharePoint Product Team –

Start practicing a little governance today and hopefully you’ll never find fungus growing in your SharePoint server!

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