Enterprise 2.0, collaboration and personal constraints

Like it or not, the smallest unit of work is the individual task. People’s workday is made of achieving tasks, and even in the context of group or collaborative work. A group only delivers the sum of the tasks achieved by its members. That’s why coordination matters. We can even say that, how ironic, knowledge work makes individual tasks even more important : if it’s possible to achieve a physical task through a joint effort, thinking jointly is impssible. We think individually and group work implies increased interactions to stay coordinated and consistent. Ten people can push a car together but they can’t think as one to solve a problem : that’s why it’s important to exchange to share task statuses, update, get coordinated.

Now, let’s guess how an individual does when they have a task to achieve.

If he can do it by himself, it’s alright. And what if he can’t ? He reports to his team to ask for help and sometimes the problem solving is assigned to the group. What implies a new individual task for members even if the numerous interactions makes it look like a collectivce task. By group I mean a formalized set of people that have been assigned an objective, would it be a department or a project team. This situation looks very usual but some “2.0” practices may improve things as it may help to deal with a lot of informal signals aiming at making everyone’s work status more visible, avoiding an heavy,time consuming and poorly responsive coordination. But what happens when the group reaches a dead-end ?

In a traditional system, the group would be in big trouble : the solution to avoid being block would be to throw a bottle into the sea. But how to find the right people out the human structure one is used to work into ? At this point, a 2.0 approach becomes very valuable : people rely on their network, on communities where discussions on this specific topic take place. If a similar problem has already been solved, it’s ok. If not, it’s possible to find the right people/communities and submit the problem. People are easy to find because their social activity enrich their profile…

A first conclusion has to be made at this point : people start from themselves, then go to formal groups they’re part of and to networks and communities. They start with an individual work, then a coordinated work in a defined geoup and, at the end, unstructed  interactions within fuzzy-boundaries groups. Things happen in this order and in not other. That’s nothing but logic : from the nearer to the most distant, from the known to the unknown, from the certain to the uncertain.

This is a very “in the zflow” approach. Here, the 2.0 dimension favors visibility, micro-coordination and quick problem solving. In the other hand, people don’t have to expose themselves, to do more than their jon, to engage more. The group efficiency is improved and people can even go and find answers out of it. This is an organization oriented approach : social practices are built around a process or a workflow to increase their bandwith.

But it also need another factor : to push the logic to its end, vibrant and relevant communities are needed, making it possible for people to swith in a network mode when the group reaches its limits. This is a more “social” approach. This communities are made of people who naturally share their experiences, their thoughts on a given subject, to go one step beyond their job description and their assignments, to put a little bit of their soul into their work. In this casen people expose themselves more because they share more than knowledge : they give opinions, propose things. This is clearly about “over the flow” activities, with a participation depending on people goodwill. This is what we can call pure 2.0 : conversations, communities that form and die, soft collaboration, informal, unstructured, unpredictable, with a hudge human component because it relies on people’s will to share, learn, connect to people they would never have met otherwise. This is nearly often what people think about when thinking about enterprise 2.0.

This brings things back to the distinction I already made a few months ago.

Now it’s time to go to the point.

Let’s have a glance at the famous web 2.0 usages and the propensity for people to adopt a full 2.0 attitude at work. Everybody’s practicing 2.0 in his private life, has a Facebook account, shares, discusses. New generations can’t imagine working for an organization that does not allow to bring in the workplace the habits they have in they private life. But  what do we notice ?

• Web 2.0 is made driven by 1% of its users, is enriched by 10% and 90% consume it without even knowing where things come from.

• It’s possible to be on Facebook or Twitter without using it. People add friends up, sometimes share a joke (the same we used to share with emails 10 years ago). And that’s all.

• In some cultures, most of all in Europe, it’s obvious that importint the web dynamics within the workplace is hard. This would deserve a dedicated post but, in short, employees (and regardless to what generation they belong to) want to keep a clear frontier between their private and professional lives and between the practices they have in each. “Socializing” is ok in their private life but isn’t in their worklife. Or with lots of precautions. This brings us back to the “me, my group, my network” rule I mentioned above. Of course, it’s much easier in some countries. Of course this will change in the future. But, in the meanwhile, we have to be aware we are in 2010 and have to deal with the current situation, not doing as if we were in 2015.

So we have to clearly identified groups of poeople :

• those whose only purpose is to get their work done, only interact within their team boundaries and may go further if it’s they only way to achieve their objectives. They are task-oriented and their engagement is restricted to what’s necessary to get things done. When the situation forces them to go beyond, to engage with their network, to go to see what’s being said in a communit, they do so with a defined purpose and go back once they get what they need. Of course, by doing this again and again, some will get more deeply involved in social activities but they need to be allowed to make it step by step without being forced to make the great jump.

• those who want to engage more to exchange, discuss, benchmark, learn, propose…on busiess related topics, what will make them connect and link with people who share the same interests, on a company-wide scale. They are the ones the first group ask for help when they can’t carry on  anymore.

Must we say that enterprise 2.0 is made for this second group only ? That so much effort is made for 10 or 20% of employees ? No. There are practices that can fit all kind of needs, sometimes less ambitious, somethimes making a dent in the idea according to which enterprise 2.0 is necessarily mor human, social, humanist. Here, we’re taling about shorter interactions, less deep, mainly aimig at micro-coordination, contextualized problem solving into a defined group where everyone knows his role and assignement.

This is not trivial at all when it comes to conceive an enterprise 2.0 strategy on a macro level : both kind of people need scenarios that feet their needs and wills and organizations have to be aware that they won’t be able to take everybody in an informal and community world, in what some may call the “chaotic side of the organization”.  It’s essential not to think about what we’d love people to do in a perfect and, sometimes, fantasized world but to adapt to their collaboration logic. Working on “on the flow” practices that does not expose people that much. Call it sanitized sociala practices, I don’t care at all. I rencently wondered if “on the flow” was the cure against cultural barriers. I’m more and more convinced that it is. Some people can make the big social jump by themselves, some need aless ambitious social routine that fit they workaday needs. This may not be the big expected cultural shift but this is at least realistic and operational. And maybe that lots of small thinks will help to build the fertile ground that will help organizations to shift.

It’s said that enterprise 2.0 is about many things : connect, engage, share… I think that the most often forgotten thing is the very nature of any enterprise : getting things done.  That’s the reason why people don’t care about being 1.0 or 2.0 and only want a logic that will help them to get things done more efficiently. Sometimes alone, sometimes within a group, sometimes with people they don’t even know but one step at a time. Refusing to proceed through these stages step by step make organizations force people to make a big jump they will refuse.

By doing so and taking people’s context into account, it’s possible to make a big step ahead, bringing enterprise 2.0 to people instead of bringing them to enterprise 2.0, which is something they don’t care about at all.

Enterprise 2.0 is neither the end of groupware, nor the advent of a world only made of communities and networks. It’s about putting the right toos and practices in front of each situation, taking into account what has to be achieved and to what extent people are ready to engage. That’s the enterprise without any kind of versionning that endlessly try to adpat to new contexts, fix its lacks and is not thinking in a binary “this or this” fashion. Being successful means replacing the “or” by a “and”. Most of all, this is not about making employees happy despite of them and fulfill our dreams trough tem : they only want solutions to their problems, whatever the name is, provided it respects their personnality, their values.

At the end maybe we’ll talk more about putting enterprise 2.0 at word than adoption (what still sounds like “counter-nature” to my ears).

Anyway, there is not a single work and collaboration context but an infinite number in which specific logics of interactions have to be implemented, making possible to go from one another with small steps. As I wrote here, the best way to “socialize” people is to start from level 0 and leave them free to open themselves, one step at a time, according to their actual need. People do not block change as much as we often think : they’re only asking for small steps instead of a big jump and a processus that respects their own logic, makes sense and does not hurt their conception of engagement.

adoption, collaboration, Communautés, culture, engagement, Entreprise 2.0, groupes, groupware, on the flow, participation, réseaux-sociaux, routine sociale

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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