You get the biggest payoff for having a distributed organization when groups can work together across departments, functions, and roles on developing strategies to respond to changing conditions. This is where organization becomes more than the sum of its parts. Instead of relying on small, isolated groups or outside consultants, organizations can leverage their social network to identify opportunities and resources for strategic initiatives.
But strategy requires communication about more than project milestones and logistics. To support strategy, the communication across the network must be rich, conversational, continuous, and involve everyone in the organization.
The danger for distributed organizations is that their communication about strategy becomes disjointed because members lack the environment to support substantive, ongoing (between face-to-face meetings) discussions. Many people believe erroneously that f-t-f meetings are the only time you can have this type of exchange. New skills are required to engage with each other effectively at different times from different places.
This is where the organization can get the biggest payoff for investing in communications resources (time, energy, supporting technology). An organization that does this well can create strategies, processes, and new approaches it needs to thrive.
Conversations are the lifeblood of modern organizations. Until recently, the knowledge and understandings conveyed in meetings and memos and water cooler bull sessions just leaked into the air. The great advantage of new media is not how much information they can put at disposal of individuals and organizations – but the kind of conversations they make possible. The technology for sharing knowledge and cementing powerful social networks is no longer rarely accessible or expensive. The knowledge of how to use the technology, not the software or the physical means of transporting it, will be the strategic advantage of those who possess it and diffuse it.
Below is an excellent summary of how online social networks benefit organizations by Lisa Kimball and Howard Rheingold, Rheingold Associates: