"Technology is supposed to support us and do what we tell it to do. Instead we have the opposite: Technology tells us what to do and when to use it."
Ah…the double-edged sword of technology. Originally designed to save us time only to have become for many a 24/7, all-consuming addiction! Emails, texts, BBMs, tweets, pings and pokes. When exactly did the tail start wagging the dog? And why would companies want to further immerse their employees in a virtual world by using web-based collaboration tools?
Author Jacob Morgan notes he has grown up using technology tools and “doesn’t remember what it was like to conduct business when these platforms did not exist.” Funny, I remember all too well the pain of writing my undergraduate thesis on a portable electric typewriter and having to later make corrections on pages 3, 12, 28 and 70, which necessitated retyping the entire manuscript! The phrase ‘cut and paste’ had an entirely different meaning back then! But I digress.
The Collaborative Organization is a primer on how to harness the benefits of emergent collaborative software (aka Enterprise 2.0 tools and platforms) to solve business problems and foster innovation. Morgan covers off topics such as the business drivers for using web-based tools, risk assessment, developing a deployment strategy, overcoming employee resistance, measuring success and sustaining adoption. He builds a case for why such tools should become “the door to the organization where almost all work can get done” rather than an add-on tool that employees need to manage.
We Beats Me
"The more employees can share, communicate, collaborate, and engage with one another, the greater the flow of ideas is."
In another fascinating flashback to pre-internet days, research done by T.J. Allen in 1977 found that when people worked more than 30 meters apart, they were less likely to collaborate and communicate with each other. Having worked in both large and small organizations, I have experienced this myself; you tend to talk things over with people you see regularly than you do with co-workers that reside in other areas of the building, never mind in another country. And yet, when you make the effort to connect with those outside your regular work or social space, you often have conversations that lead you to new insights and ideas.
So why is email still the go-to tool used by many to ‘collaborate and communicate’ even though it was not really designed for that purpose? We use it simply because everyone has it. Emergent collaboration tools can engage a broader range of people for problem-solving and innovation. Given many in today’s workforce (and future workforce) are mini-Morgans, people who have grown up using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, and other social networking tools, and recognizing business is becoming increasingly global in nature, it makes sense to leverage collaborative applications for business purposes.
Sometimes Weak Beats Strong
"Emergent collaboration solutions allow the creation of strong ties, but more important, they allow for the creation of weak ties, or bridges, within organizations. These bridges allow employees to get access to information and people within a larger network instead of simply relying on the people they know."
So, let’s get clear on what is meant by strong and weak links or ties. A strong tie represents a well-established connection you have with someone, like an immediate family member, friend or long-time co-worker. These relationships typically require consistent and ongoing effort to maintain. Weak ties are acquaintances, extended family, friends-of-friends, or colleagues with whom you have only occasional contact or no contact at all. These ties require minimal effort to maintain which is why you generally have more weak ties than strong ones.
In our personal lives, blogs and social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are examples of consumer-oriented applications that help people establish and leverage weak ties. In a work context, customized collaboration platforms offer similar benefits. Employees are able to create information-rich profiles which can then be searched when there is a need to find someone with a different knowledge base or skill set in order to solve a challenge. They can post status updates on projects, seek input on draft documents, float ideas or simply ask and answer questions in an open forum. On-line tools help us to tap into the wisdom of people we haven’t met, not simply the people we cross paths with every day.
We all have benefited at one time or another from a weak tie, either personally or at work. A consultant who ran a workplace leadership program I attended several years ago later connected me with someone in her network. This new contact invited me to collaborate on a proposal that eventually generated business for both of us. I once attended a youth career fair where professionals like me were asked to connect students interested in a particular career with someone in their network who could answer their questions. I linked a student with my sister-in-law who works for an airline.
If you are stymied with a problem or aren’t sure where to find the information you need, try reaching out to your weak ties to see if they have any potential solutions or can connect you with someone in their network who might be able to help.
"There are two types of knowledge that need to be shared and transferred at organizations: new knowledge and old knowledge."
Too often organizations focus a disproportionate amount of their resources and attention on disseminating immediately relevant information to employees, to the neglect of capturing the wealth of historical knowledge and expertise housed within the craniums of those employees. This short-term focus has long-range implications that are easily overlooked until a veteran employee announces their resignation or retirement. Only then do leaders take notice and scramble to siphon as much gray matter as they can from the soon-to-be-gone employee.
Morgan believes this can be overcome when employees use emergent technologies to store, share and retrieve information. Granted, companies still need to create a common architecture for organizing and tagging this information, however search engines like Google have certainly demonstrated the power of keyword searches for instant information retrieval. And the emergence of user-generated tags and hashtags on sites like Facebook and Twitter make virtual labeling systems accessible and easy for everyone. This certainly has advantages over traditional paper-based filing systems and cumbersome 1.0 intranets.
I confess that I didn’t learn what I expected to learn given the book’s title, however I didn’t come away empty-handed either! The book reminded me that technology has, is and will continue to shape how we connect with and interact with others. Social and collaboration tools can simplify how we share and access knowledge which is critical in this increasingly global world we live in. However, we need to use this technology consciously and judiciously because, at the end of the day, it is our interactions with people that will help us overcome our challenges and generate the breakthrough results we seek.
Does your organization embrace or resist social and collaborative technologies? How have you used social platforms to collaborate with your team or network?