Adopting new practices in multiple contexts

Knowing that people have to face multiple contexts in their work, we have to make sure that new practices and tools are enablers in each situation. I do not write “social” or “2.0” in purpose because these words are so tied to communities and social networks that we often forget that the underlying concepts may be helpul in many other cases. Moreover, even if they are dimensions that have to be developed in the workspace because they are nearly nonexistant at this time, they don’t apply to all work situations and does not meet all needs.

Enterprise 2.0 is a big bag full of interesting concepts but its downside is that people are often tempted to apply everything everywhere instead of applying only a part of it to some needs, depending on their relevance to the context. But that’s not because not everything is community that some logics may not be used separately, with less ambition. Doing this means starting from people’s needs and context instead of throwing them in an unknown world which sense is hard to perceive. As a matter of fact, the goal, that must not be overlooked, is to help people to be more efficient in their workaday tasks. Before being told what they could do with new tools and business practices, they’d rather be taught how, as a starting point, they could do better what they already know.

• At the individual level

Being more efficient collectively while being alone may be a surprising point. But the fundamentals that will help to go further have to be built here. Even social or collaborative, tools may first serve an individual need.

Example : bookmarks management in browsers is a nightmare. It’s not hard to show how a good social bookmarking tool does it better…even if not used socially. People will start to use it because it’s better, more easy to use, that it makes it easier to find what you’re looking for, without sharing. Using an online version of a word processor is good too. Nothing changes except it can be used through a browser (or a desktop app if syncing is possible). On the other hand, sharing for viewing or editing instead of sending an email will always be one click away, when the need will come.

Minor changes, mainly about tools, but that are essential for the next steps because individual users and their whole ecosystem will be one click away (and not one mail away) without focing them to share and it will make it easier for them to go to next stage.

• At the teamwork level

As surprising as it may be, before doing miracles into networks, people work into defined and structured teams. These teams have a defined perimeter, a defined manager, and clear objectives. Working with colleague, being supervised by a manager instead of networking and having discussions with colleagues may be old school but, believe me, that’s the reality for many people and is the heart of organization’s concerns.

What can make people’s life easier here ? Everything that would help them to find what they need, starting with very simple things (who’s doing what, what’s their colleague’s work status…). At this stage, we only talk about status updates, in a microblogging style. No large discussion or exposition : people only share answers to questions they can’t stand answering ten times a day (what are you doing ? what’s the status of your to-do), things they want others to know. That’s about “technical”, factual exchanges and looks a little bit like the post-its that are left on a colleague’s desk or on the office’s wall. Some will need less time than others to do that, but let’s bet it will be very contagious. Benefit : stop loosing one’s time giving visibility on one’s work and run after others.  Team members are not asked to be blog columnists or to turn themselves into a content agency. Definitely not !

Using a wiki for meeting reports and follow-up may be a good idea too. Or using a word processor that allows co-editing. Then step by step, by sharing documents or bookmarks, maybe some will allow other to see all their bookmarks, give edition rights. First one document and one person at a time and occasionnally. And then…more people, more often on more kind of information ?

Maybe they’ll even grow bolder and open a team blog (with restricted access of course), or projects blogs, or a “group”, to document what they do, whare their questions, find answers. Maybe they’ll become crazy enough to dare to share ideas. Anyway, forcing them is useless. They should find their own pace while being aware of what they can do.

The “activities” module that is a part of some enterprise platforms also fits very well a task oriented context while also being flexible and allowing some kind of social interactions and may be useful in such contexts.

In such cases, making sure (and proving) that time is saved on coordination, meetings etc.. is essential. With time, the effects on knowledge and information capture for future reuse will also been obvious. But it will come a little bit later.

No one should forget that the purpose it to help a team to meet his objectives without any philosophical consideration. This is more about coordination and signal (social signal of course) than about anything else, at least at the beginning. Having a look at how IBM’s blueIQ team focus on helping people to accomplish workaday tasks first is also very instructive.

Of course, it happens under the authority of a manager.

One day, teams may need more specific things like Salesforce Chatter for sales people,  12sprints for decision making., Gravity to help them to build and refine their own processes. The list will surely grow in a near future…

• At the communities and social network level

That’s the point where things become really interesting. Sometimes, that’s the point many people would like to start from. But we have to admit that the people that are the more comfortable in this context don’t need any help to play this game and that the others need a progress that goes through the previous steps. In some positive and opportunistic cultures, it may happen differently but, according to what I can see everyday, most employees need to follow this logic of progressive broadening of the perimeter of their interactions (at both human, behavioral and functiunal levels) to be comfortable here.

For some, it’s the occasion to enrich their work by adding a new and deeper dimension, to engage into reflections, to make propositions, to discover new people, to engage new relationships. They’ll be the leader of these spaces, factual community managers. Sometimes a dedicated community manager will also be there to energize these dynamics. Ideally, the organization will rely on both.

At this level, everything is about exchanges, discussions, the pursuit of a personal benefit that’s neitheir quantifiable nor datable, which happening is not predictable.

For the others, who care more about their personal involvement and beware of exposing themselves too much, they will consider these spaces as places for experts where they’ll punctually find answers to their questions. Maybe, by spending more and more time in these communties, some will get the virus. The others will come punctually, get what they need, and go back to the reassuring context of their team. Their involvement may increase as they are shown how it’s easier to get what they need instead of losing their way in the meanderings of the organization chart.

Here, community managers replace managers and converations replace interactions. Other objectives, other postures, other roles. If organizations create value at the team level, they find solutions to the limit of the teams into communities. Communities are the place where organization develop their knowledge, invent their future, in short, it’s where tomorrow’s value and wealth incubates. If the social dimension fails (or does not exist), the organization looses its ability to adapt, to reinvetn itself in the future. If people overlook that it has to serve the rest of the organization, to feed teams, if it’s seen as an end rather than a means, it will be a hudge but unexploited field of value.

I’m only talking about internal things here. Organizations may want to involve people from the outside, but it will fall into one of the above mentioned logics : collaboration with partners will follow the rules of teamwork, co-building and innovating with clients is rather a community approach.

What I meant here is that improving the organizational performance by leveraging collective work is a logic that has to deal with many different contexts even if the underlying approach is quite the same. It implies not to think in terms of standard behaviors but into context / objective / role driven ones. It also implies that these contexts have to articulate at the employee level. The change process also has to take into account the different steps any employee need to be efficient in all contexts. Last, but not least, means and ends must not be mistaken one for the others so many energy will be wasted to do thing that will not improve the performance of the organization (what is the final purpose, isn’t it ?)

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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