Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Social Collaboration vs The Existing Communication Culture



Sometimes (and quite often according to my own observations) there is a significant gap between the existing organizational culture and the kind of culture that readily will embrace and adopt social software and social collaboration practices. The existing communication culture, which can be seen as a subset of the organizational culture, reveals a lot about an organization’s readiness to adopt social collaboration practices. Here are a few characteristics of organizations where there is high resistance (or ignorance), especially among management, towards the new ways of communicating and interacting which social software enables.

Tightly controlled communication flows

  • The organization is strictly hierarchic in the sense that it is not ok to bypass the chain of command when communicating with others. Hence it is unthinkable that an employee will communicate directly with the CEO, and vice versa. Management wants to maintain the illusion of being in control of employee-to-employee communication, especially when it comes to employee-to-management or employee-to-group communication.
  • The organization is heavily dependent on email communication. They are using email groups for communicating information to specific groups. No-one is allowed to email any other groups than the ones they belong to. They are not allowed to email other groups within the same hierarchical branch of  the organization chart, or everybody within their branch or division. It might even by that only managers are allowed to email groups, while all others are just passive receivers (forget about announcing that you're leaving for another job).
Overreliance on traditional communication technologies
  • There is little awareness of other ways of communicating than face-to-face meeting, phone calls, emails and documents, as well as of the limitations and problems of the existing ways of communicating. The technologies provided by the organization are limited to phones, email, and a traditional intranet which serves as a top-down, one-way communication channel and information self-service portal.
  • The individuals in the workforce are not very used to new technologies such as smartphones, web conferencing, chat/IM even in their private lives. Virtual collaboration does practically not exist and even if there is an inherent need for it, it is rarely articulated. Awareness of the business drivers and possibilities for virtual collaboration is low.
Lack of understanding of the importance of communication
  • Managers don’t see communication as their key responsibility and their communication skills are not being considered important when appointed as managers. They are considered good managers because they are loyal to the management and bureaucrats who love - and excel at - reporting facts and figures upwards (and sometimes downwards) in the hieararchy.
  • Communication skills and the understanding of the importance of communication is also low across the workforce. Many employees believe that the purpose of documentation is to produce documents and don’t really understand that the purpose is to communicate certain information in an effective and efficient way to anyone who might need it.
How do these observations relate to / correlate with your own observations? Which barriers do you see as the main ones when it comes to failing to adopt social collaboration practices?

1 comment:

  1. Great article, especially the comments on managers and their communication skills or lack thereof. PS - Need a spell check on bureaucrats in the second to last bullet. :)

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