Thursday, January 21, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 and Collective Collaboration – Part II



To start with, let me set the scene for this post with a number of quotes:
Knowledge used to be understood as an internal property of an individual. Today knowledge should be seen as networked communication. The network is the amplifier of knowledge. This requires us to learn new ways of talking about education, reward systems and organizing in companies, and most of all, work itself. The process of communication is the process of knowing. You can only know what you are doing in conversation. If we want to influence the process of knowing we need to enable new habits of participation and new habits of communication." (Esko Kilpi)

“Data in the hands of a few makes for order; but data in the hands of many makes for endless possibilities.” (“The Whuffie Factor” by Tara Hunt)

Social media is about participation, getting the entire workforce engaged and creating synergies…it’s often the relationship between the parts, their interdependence, that makes a difference." (“Social Media at Work”, Jue, Marr & Kassotakis, 2009)

Each communication episode provides the potential for people to learn something new about their partners, make decisions, monitor the state of the work, take corrective action, and perform other joint activities. If the communication episode does not take place, then the information exchange and joint action will not occur.” (“Distributed work” by Pamela Hinds & Sara Kiesler)

"Social Media didn’t invent conversations, it only surfaced them." (Brian Solis)

“Throughout the primate world, social networks provide a fast conduit for innovation and information-sharing that help the group as a whole to adapt to its environment.” (“Glut - Mastering Information Through The Ages” by Alex Wright)
It sometimes happens that a number of people need to get together to collaborate towards a specific purpose and goal. These people might be from the same organizational unit and location, or from different organizational units and locations within and outside of the borders of an organization which is part of an enterprise. This is what most of us typically mean when we use the term “collaboration”. Sometimes we also use it to describe collaboration between organizations, but this is more of an abstraction level since collaboration always happen between people, and in such case between people from different organizations.



It takes a lot to make this kind of collaboration happen and become efficient and effective, especially when the team members are distributed in time and space and need to operate as a virtual team dependent on various technologies. This team needs to overcome barriers such as time, location, organization, culture, language, attitudes, behaviors…but I won’t get into details about those things in this post. Here I will focus on the concept of “collective collaboration”, a term which I tried to define in a previous post.

To become efficient and effective, the team needs to reach a common understanding about their purpose, objectives, tasks, roles, and so on. The only way to do this is by communicating with each other, and the richer, more interactive, and more frequent this communication is, the better are the chances for the team to reach and maintain this common understanding across time and space until their purpose is fulfilled. Obviously, it is easier to do this for a team consisting of people belonging to the same organizational unit, located in the same place, speaking the same language, sharing values etc than it is for a virtual team consisting of people with various backgrounds from different organizations from around the globe.

Over time, as the team members get to know each other better and develop a shared understanding of things, they are likely to become more efficient. They develop strong ties to each other. Their ideas, knowledge, attitudes and behavior will converge.

This also tends to lead to group think; the team members “try to minimize conflict and reach consensus without critically testing, analyzing, and evaluating ideas” (Wikipedia). Since they all share the more or less the same information, they eventually think more and more alike. This makes them dependent on a constant inflow of new and relevant information from their environment. Hence the need for collective collaboration; the kind of collaboration that allows the team to access all information they need from the environment – inside as well of outside of the organization they belong to - and thereby helping an enterprise avoiding such things as sub-optimization, redundant work, waste, bad decision-making.

So, the team members need to know what is going on elsewhere. Otherwise, they will most likely miss out on information that can be valuable to them and the common good of the enterprise. The problem here is that it is not easy to see and find out what is going on elsewhere in a large and distributed enterprise. Of course, we can use our informal network to become aware of other initiatives that we might depend on, but it is virtually impossible to use this network in an efficient way with traditional communication means such as phone calls, email, and face-to-face meetings. It requires a lot of hard detective work, so why would we spend time and energy on monitoring and listening to our environment unless we have a very specific and urgent problem we need help to solve?


It is also very unlikely that we will discover and get access to what happens elsewhere, including the information and knowledge possessed bt other teams and individuals, unless we openly share information with each other. If we share it in a public space where we could also filter out the kind information that might relevant to us, then we would have much have much greater changes of discovering valuable information without all the detective work that comes with using our informal networks with traditional methods such as face-to-face meetings and phone calls.


As openness and transparency of information increases, we won't only be able to discover new information that might be valuable to our team. We might also discover new people, connect with them, and share information directly with them. Social networking helps us extend, strengthen and use networks, providing the basic infrastructure which is needed for fast access and sharing of relevant information. Over time, we might develop enough trust in each other and develop the kind of strong ties we need to be able to collaborate in a team.

Over time, open, rich and frequent communication, sharing and interaction will help to build a sense of belonging and community, a feeling that we are all contributing to a common good. Then we might actually help each other even if it doesn’t bring any direct return to our team or us as individuals, other than the recognition we might get from our peers – and possibly increased social status within the community. This helps to build employee engagement, which makes us more motivated and productive as individuals.



For this to happen, it is that our contributions are recorded and visible to others. If our contributions are not seen, then we won’t be able to get the recognition we need to continue contributing. So, we need a platform that does that.

“Most current collaboration technologies, including email, instant messaging, and cell phone texting are what I call channels. They essentially keep communications private. People beyond the sender and receiver(s) can’t view the contents of information sent over channels, and usually don’t even know that communication has taken place. Information sent via channels isn’t widely visible, consultable, or searchable. And no record exists of who sent what to whom, so channels leave no trace of collaboration patterns."

"The new generation of collaboration technologies that are underpinning Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, in contrast, are all platforms. They’re repositories of digital content where contributions are globally visible (everyone with access to the platform can see them) and persistent (they stick around, and so can be consulted and searched for). Access to platforms can be restricted (to, for example, only members of an R&D lab or a team working on a particular deal) so that proprietary content isn’t universally visible within a company, but the goal of a platform technology is to make content widely and perennially available to its members!”

When connected to each other, these Enterprise 2.0 platforms make up an eco-system of “information hubs” - blogs, wikis, communities, micro-blogging, media sharing, forums… - that allows us collect and maintain information in a collective way within an enterprise.



These hubs must be flexible to accommodate any kind of information that we need to share. Anyone must be allowed to access and contribute to these hubs, but participation must be voluntary. With easy access and authoring combined with the informal and organic way we maintain these information hubs, we ensure that threshold to participation is kept as low as possible so that we maximize the number of contributions.

By linking the hubs together, we are creating a user-generated, interlinked and rapidly adaptable body of knowledge which is open to everyone. The links combined with tags that we apply ourselves to the information makes it easier for us to organize the information, but also to find and discover relevant information with the use of filters.



With abundance of information, we need more than filters that allow us to narrow things down until we have relevant information. We also need a way to be alerted when there is something new for us. Instead of having to surf around and visit each and every information hub that might contain information that is relevant to us just to check if something is new, we can use signals in combination with filters to tell us when there is new relevant information available to us.

We also need a way to simplify consumption. Syndication does that for us. By making new information come to us instead of us coming to the information hubs, we save the time we otherwise would spend on navigating to different information hubs. If the information comes in a standardized format, we can also use one single way to interact with it. This means that our capacity to consume information greatly increases as we have to spend less time and energy on learning and remembering how to navigate on an information hub.



These are just some of the ways in which Enterprise 2.0 technologies and “mechanisms” can support collective collaboration within an enterprise. But the technology is just one side of the coin. To borrow the words of Larry Hawes:
"No business case will sell social software to a firm that doesn’t already value collaboration in its culture. If the ROI is needed to convince an organisation that collaboration is a good thing - then ROI is the least of your problems."

2 comments:

  1. Good work on exploring the uses and consequences of the different modes of networked social/collaborative organization. Another good approach differentiates between the group, the network and the collective: http://www.igi-global.com/downloads/excerpts/33011.pdf .

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  2. Well reasoned and well presented Oscar. By and large, I'm in lock-step with the rational presentation of this paradigm.

    But here's the real-world challenge that we face, and that I'd love to get your reaction to...

    The majority of front-line, "on the coal face", employees loath having their names and reputations attached - with permanence - to information, opinions, and data that is available to the world outside their trusted circle of friends and colleagues. It opens them to criticism and persecution, perhaps even prosecution in certain settings.

    Do we just wait out this generation - push the platform and wait for the next generation to adapt and adopt?

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