Envisioning and shaping the future of work and business.

Friday, August 7, 2009

This week in links - week 32, 2009

8:12:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg , No comments
I'm back to work and blogging after four weeks of vacation. Here's a new set of recommended readings.

A wall we are hitting at work is the need for ad-hoc group spaces to work on something rather than using email.

Lots of people belong to CoPs, but when it comes to working on a task with diverse people we get stuck…we could choose to nominate a CoP, but we’d rather an on-the-fly room.

Email is private by default, and if all we use is email, then our organisational activity is private by default…same goes with meetings…so at the moment organisational communication and coordination is a slave to inferior technology (non-conducive to the knowledge age).

We have our business units (functional), our teams (execute), our communities of practice (learn)…but what has been lacking online is mirroring the behaviour in how we work offline ie. ad-hoc groups from diverse parts of the organisation assembling in meetings to achieve an objective…and then this is where the mirror should appear, in that we go back to our seats and rather than use email use social networks and group spaces
In a new study released this week found that many of the most successful social media initiatives on company intranets start as underground, grassroots efforts led by front-line workers, and which later are officially sanctioned by the enterprise.

The study, published by Nielsen Norman Group, concludes that “social software technologies are exposing the holes in corporate communication and collaboration and at times filling them before the enterprise can fully grasp and control the flow.”

Key findings in the study include the following:

Underground efforts yield big results: “Companies are turning a blind eye to underground social software efforts until they prove their worth, after which they integrate them more thoroughly.”

Front-line employees are driving the vision: “Many senior managers still consider social tools something their teenagers use. Young workers, who do not need to be taught or convinced to use these tools, expect them in the workplace.”

The business need is the big driver: “Social software is not about the tools, it is about what the tools enable the users to do and about the business problems the tools address.”

Communities are self-policing: “When left to their own devices, communities within enterprise intranets police themselves. Workers tend to retain their professional identities, leaving little need for the organization to institute controls.”

Organizations must cede power: “As companies have been learning from using Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with their customers, they can no longer fully control their message. This is true, too, when Web 2.0 tools are used in internal communications.”
We see a natural emergent network effect at play on the Web when consumers (and also small business users) start to use a particular collaborative or social tool, but in most large organisations of course access to new technology is strictly controlled. In those environments the temptation when introducing any new technology is to step carefully, check the likely return on investment and maybe run a few pilots.

But the results of this approach will never tell the real story of collaborative and social tools. You will never see the true benefits and value until that technology is made available to everyone in the organisation. Unfortunately what we've typically seen with collaborative technologies is quite the opposite - restricted deployments, consumption based charge back systems and as a result little support for users to help them integrate them into everyday work practices.
Stop right now! Call it off, tell staff that in these challenging times its more about them than some shallow tinkering of the org structure.

Organisations are not like cars. They can't be tuned or refurbished in the same way as the parts are people, not mechanical parts that can't think for themselves. So having provided a 100% productivity boost by NOT restructuring how do we get the next 100% productivity boost? I would suggest that once staff are aligned with what the organisation's charter / mission, provide them with room to meet and negotiate how they could best work with other departments to achieve the mission. Facilitate and allow time for familiarity and trust to be built across the organisation. Emphasise that commitments made to peers are equally, if not more important, than those made to their line management. A trustful organisation is a highly productive one.
In President Obama's address to the weekly address to the nation on Saturday, he said he believed that the current economic downturn is winding down, and the key to growth in America's [or any country's] future is to foster a situation that encourages a spirit of innovation. His recent $787 billion stimulus package has done a lot to help numbers, but full recovery could take a few more months. In order to facilitate this innovation-driven environment, we need the best educated and highest skilled workers, a healthcare system that leads to innovation, we need to build a clean energy economy and continue to invest heavily in research and development.

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