Author: Harold Jarche Posted: March 08, 2012 1939 views

Everyone talks about collaboration in the workplace today but what does it really mean? How do you get from here to there? Every snake oil salesman is selling social something: enterprise social; social learning; social CRM; etc. For me boils down to three principles.

Narration of Work: This means actually talking about what you are doing. It’s making your tacit knowledge (what you feel) more explicit (what you are doing with that knowledge). Narrating your work is a powerful behaviour changer, as anyone who blogs regularly can attest. Of course, I mean personal or professional blogs, not writing articles just to attract eyeballs and increase advertising revenue.

In an organization, narration can take many forms. It could be a regular blog; sharing day-to-day happenings in activity streams; taking pictures and videos; or just having regular discussions. Developing good narration skills, like adding value to information, takes time and practice, so don’t expect overnight miracles.

Narration of work is the first step in becoming a social enterprise.

Transparency: This is an easy concept to understand but much more difficult to implement in the enterprise. It’s switching the default mode to sharing. This can be enabled by social media but note that social media also make the company culture transparent. A dysfunctional company culture does not improve with transparency, it just gets exposed. Here’s an observation from Ross Mayfield, founder of SocialText, in 2007:

But I’ll also make one argument, about how the change in tools may be deterministic for changing culture and about cultural spillover.  Blogs and Wikis are inherently more transparent than email, where 90% of collaboration occurs.  Users are first gaining exposure to these tools as consumers, within consumer culture.  The default in that culture with these tools is transparency and sharing.  Corporate cultures vary. I can say that we see earlier adoption by corporations with healthy cultures and management practices such as 360 degree reviews, and adoption practices matter.  But it should be noted that consumer culture spills over to corporate culture.  And because this culture shift aids practice building, I’d assert that these tools will trend us towards transparency.

Use social media to promote transparency but be ready to deal with the culture that is exposed. Transparency means real knowledge-sharing. The prime benefit cited for social media in the enterprise is increasing the speed of access to knowledge. This is what transparency enables and it’s necessary to implement the third principle.

Shared Power: Jon Husband describes wirearchy as; “a dynamic two-way flow of power and authority based on information, knowledge, trust and credibility, enabled by interconnected people and technology.” This is the desired state, but getting there is difficult. Companies that start with this objective have an advantage over existing hierarchical cultures. Examples of shared-power organizations are growing, but not so much that they are the majority.

Start with narration and move toward transparency, with a longer-term objective of shared power. This third principle is essential for social businesses that derive their value from complex and creative work. In these organizations, the higher value work is at the edges and power has to be pushed out to enable exception-handling, the real work in the connected enterprise.

These three simple principles should be enough guidance. The rest depends on the specific context of each organization and the ability to keep things in perpetual Beta.

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.”  ~ Pablo Picasso

 Thanks to Chris Mackay for the title of this post.

About the author >

Harold Jarche

Harold Jarche passionately believes in the re-integration of work and learning. People have connected with Harold over the past decade, through his blog and consulting practices, for innovative ideas on business, technology, social networks and learning. He also distills heady topics like complexity theory into practical advice. Harold has saved clients time and money by focusing on business objectives and conducting cause analyses, instead of prescribing training as a solution looking for a problem. A graduate of the Royal Military College, Harold served over 20 years in the Canadian Army in leadership and training roles. Harold has held senior positions at the Centre for Learning Technologies and e-Com Inc. His preferred workplace is on his bike, where he gets his best ideas.

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