Talk is cheap, right? (Even when it is written down in social conversations.) Wrong!
As a manager I am afraid that people are spending too much time on meaningless conversations on social media. In a business, all communication should serve a purpose: it should be about the Business. And the Business is about tangible things: customers, offers, orders, products, etc. Therefore all communication in an organization should be directly related to these subjects. It helps people achieve specific targets with regards to these subjects: talk about a customers to serve them better, talk about an offer to make sure we offer the best, etc. And all this ‘talk’ can be written conversations in Enterprise Social Media like Yammer or SharePoint, but they must discuss these subjects. Right? Not entirely so.
Team versus Community
Every organization is a collection of overlapping groups of people. The primary structure of (almost) all organizations is the Hierarchy: the organisational chart of business units, departments, sub-departments, etc. Each (sub-)department in an orgchart represents a collection of people with a common objective: to produce or deliver something in line with the department’s mission.
But every organization also contains other groups of people having a common target to produce something tangible: project teams, committees, work groups, etc. These are examples of groups that are composed with people from different departments (i.e. ‘cross-hierarchy’), but still have a common objective.
On the other hand, every organization also contains groups of people having a common interest without having a common target to produce something. These groups are called Communities. Examples of Communities are: all users of a specific IT-application, all people involved in recruiting, all project managers, etc. And although every organization has them, they are not always defined explicitly, and therefore they are not always apparent. Members of Communities can help each other because they encounter the same problems in their daily work, without having to achieve the same objectives together.
Transversal Conversations are about discussions in Communities. The big advantage of conversations in Communities is that colleagues help each other (peer help), without needing a hierarchy. The fact is that a lot of this peer help is currently hidden in e-mails, or is non-existing at all. Because the cost of ‘organizing’ this is much too high (1), setting up Communities is a great way to increase the efficiency and the satisfaction of workers.
A lot of the real, daily questions people are confronted with are hidden. Conversations in Communities bring common problems to the surface.
Communities help to make use of the latent knowledge in an organization. By allowing people to start Communities, you give a voice to people that otherwise wouldn’t have one. There are numerous examples of help coming from an unexpected source when asked for in a Community. There are also numerous examples of questions that couldn’t get an answer ‘in the hierarchy’, or that would take much too long to get answered. Asking questions in open (i.e. transversal) Communities leads to faster, more qualitative and more innovative answers.
And although you might want to monitor the conversations in Communities to make sure that all questions get answered and answers are in line with the guidelines and procedures, the cost of this is much lower than trying to centralize questions in an internal helpdesk.
With Yammer, you can start Communities today
One of the best tools to get started with transversal conversations in open Communities is Yammer (www.yammer.com). You can start with the free version, get some experience, and then switch to the Enterprise version whenever you want.
You can start with 1 or more Communities and see how they evolve. You can experience what works and what doesn’t.
(And if you need advice on the fastest way to make it work, Spikes can help you.)
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(1) Footnote: See Clay Shirky’s talk on TED: ‘Institutions versus Collaboration’ (http://bit.ly/15RcVJv )