Vibrant Groups

In the Office 365 Community, I was asked by Cai Kjaer of Swoop Analytics how we can identify groups in social collaboration tools that are thriving, struggling or dead. We are becoming increasingly aware of the value of great group and team structures to the success of collaboration in organisations. With that in mind, group health takes on a key role in the success of networks.

Here’s my response to Cai’s great question:

Because groups exist for diverse purposes it is hard to assess universally but here are a few reflections at each level of a group’s purpose. I haven’t mapped to your three levels but there is a mapping that is possible from the themes below. e.g. Dead is when it is not a group anymore and at the other end if it is Solving work problems it is clearly thriving.

Is it still a group (Connect)? Most basically does the group serve a purpose that continues to attract people? Are people joining, do they come and visit the group and is it not losing its membership? Groups can exist as a kind of social distribution list. These groups can remain dormant/passive for long periods of time but play an important role when they are needed. More importantly does it connect people who are not connected elsewhere?

Is it still sharing information (Share)? Is new information being shared in the group? Are there interactions on the information in the group (Likes/Shares/Replies)? Is there a core champion team creating an experience for others in the group? How diverse are the contributions to the group? Is it playing a role brokering information sharing between different parts of the broader network?

Is it doing work (Solve)? Do posts in the group get a timely response? Does the topic at the heart of the group animate people to do things? Is the activity drawing in a wider group of champions and also activating more interaction from all the members of the group? How does the group drive value for members and for the organisation? Does the group create a strong cluster within the wider network?

In my view this is a cascade. If groups aren’t moving up the maturity curve, then they are falling down. Attention is limited in large organisations. People move on to other things when they don’t create value for them and the organisation. The exception would be groups as previous referred that exist solely for option value (i.e. might be needed later such as a CEO briefing group or a YamJam group). These groups should be few and documented in the community management strategy.

What’s your view? What defines a vibrant group? How do we get early warning of issues with groups?

Why Collaboration Value is Understated

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Applying mechanical process productivity to collaboration provides us with an efficiency benefit case for collaboration. Understanding the true benefits of collaboration requires us to understand the knowledge work systems in place and the broader effectiveness of the organisation at creating value.

Value of Collaboration is Not Easy

We always facing the challenge of valuing the benefits of collaboration.  Collaborative technology is part of the infrastructure of the organisation. It’s use is open to many applications that will be co-created by the employees and shaped by the organisation. Many of the outcomes are not direct; collaboration facilitates a more effective organisation.

The temptation is to play it safe. We can use the same process efficiency mindset that applies to any other system to automate processes.  The question usually asked is “How much more efficient will our people be when they use a collaboration system?’  A number of studies have looked at the impact of collaboration systems on in process efficiency of knowledge workers. One of the most widely quoted statistics is the McKinsey survey that identified 20-25% of the time of knowledge workers could be saved with better ways to search for and interact on information. This mindset often drives an adoption focus to collaboration projects that misses a bigger opportunity to create value.

25% Better Off?

If you are processing iron ore into steel and you find a way to do it 25% better, then you will have 25% more steel or need 25% less inputs. That is a mechanical process saving. Inputs became outputs at a cost. This is how our traditional efficiency mindset has focused us on measuring value.

However, knowledge work isn’t like steel manufacture. At the end of a knowledge work process, we still have the inputs and the outputs. Both the inputs and the outputs can be shared widely at very low cost because they are easily reproducible. Most importantly, neither the inputs nor the outputs are fixed. 

Let’s consider a practical example. As a knowledge worker, you are asked to create a new process to improve the efficiency of steel production. Is the goal to do this 25% faster? No, the goal is to create the most efficient way of producing steel.  There are four elements that measure effectiveness of your work:

  • Reduce waste: If there is no better way currently possible or someone has already done the work, then don’t work on creating a new process. Do something else.
  • Reuse existing knowledge: If someone has developed a process that is more efficient, use that process as a basis. Don’t start with a blank page.
  • Create new knowledge: If you can bring together people who have never been connected, if you can share information that has not been shared you may be able to solve new problems or create an entirely more effective process for steel manufacture. This is likely to impact a much larger value opportunity than knowledge work in your organisation.
  • Create new value with existing or new knowledge: Your new process for steel manufacture will be able to be shared across your organisation and may even become a product in its own right.

The economic value of these four elements aren’t productivity measures of knowledge work.  The economic value is the impact on the production of steel and the greater value created in the organisation by collaboration to improve steel production. In my experience the benefits from simply stopping wasteful projects without any value add, is an order of magnitude larger than the productivity benefit from reduced search by knowledge workers.

Thinking more broadly about the economic impacts of collaboration can create a dramatic step change in the benefits for an organisation.  Rather than looking at efficiency in the cost base of knowledge work, collaboration impacts value creation organisation-wide. This new view has a critical role to play in shaping leaders support for collaboration and the level of investment an organisation should make in fostering collaboration in the organisation.

Working out loud on Career Transition

I throw a spear into the darkness. That is intuition. Then I must send an army into the darkness to find the spear. That is intellect. – Ingmar Bergman

Working out loud on your intuitions is critical to success of career transition. So is bringing your network to bear as an army of hunters and collaborators to help make the new role a success.

A bunch of friends, collaborators, and inspirational leaders were made redundant yesterday. At the end of a day of reaching out to offer help, I came across the quote above from Ingmar Bergman and it reminded me of each of my past career transitions. Enforced change is daunting and can be a time of doubts and confusion. We can be deeply unsure of what comes next.

When career change takes us by surprise we usually never quite know what we want next. We are deep in the realm of doubts and hopes. We need to trust our intuition as a signal of personal purpose. We need to throw some experimental spears. Working out loud is a great way to test the waters, refine your hopes and draw opportunities. Throw a few spears and see what happens.

However working out loud is just the beginning. The next challenge is to send out an army to help you find the next role, project or help you start the next business. There’s too much for one individual to do alone. Networks are the most powerful way to search for, find or even create the new role. Combinations of strong and weak ties will make things happen that you could never expect. Working out loud can make the network aware. You will need to work the network ongoing with all your intellect to turn ideas into opportunities to fulfil your purpose.

My friends are well placed for success in this game. They are highly talented and know how to work like a network. They have global networks. They have authority on the difficult challenges in change and adoption in the future of work. They are trusted experts and partners. They are ideally placed to leverage the wirearchy to their next success. The opportunity now is to work out loud and connect, share, solve and innovate with those who admire them.

For all of us who are pondering our next move, how are you leveraging working out loud and calling on the power of your networks? How are you helping others find their next horizon?