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At Microsoft Ignite in September, Microsoft unveiled the logic underpinning its collaboration suite: the Inner & Outer Loop. In this model, Microsoft Teams is for high-velocity communications with direct teams members and Yammer is a platform to connect with people across the organisation. The model explicitly called out there was a role for Sharepoint underpinning these two platforms and email as a channel of targeted communication.
The model resonated strongly with people at Microsoft Ignite because it reflects users different work patterns. At the time, I quoted George Box that “all models are wrong but some are useful” and noted that for many at the conference the two loops model brought clarity in what had been an overlapping and complex suite of solutions often with little sense of how they worked together. Since the conference, this new clarity of positioning has driven Microsoft’s product development & marketing activities for Yammer and Teams and even how the two products interrelate. The Inner and Outer loop has been shaping the future for the Microsoft Modern Workplace suite. At the same time, people have focused on arguing about the model, reinterpreting the model, elaborating it or improving on it (Encouragement for the ‘what tool when’ crowd to redesign their many infographics).
Transition: Working Out Loud in Both Loops
One thing struck me when I considered the idea of Inner and Outer Loops: nobody works in only one loop. All our work involves a continuous process of transition between an Inner Loop of focused execution and an Outer Loop of learning, collaboration and discovery. The Loops are not places or tools. The Loops are patterns of our interaction around our work. Those patterns are ever-shifting based on our work needs. After a decade working on the adoption of social technology one thing is clear to me, we need to spend more time focused on the right ways to help users transition to more effective ways of working.
Working out loud can play an important part in aiding users to see the need to change their work. Working Out Loud can occur in both loops. Working out loud also helps the process of transition to improve the effectiveness of work. We work out loud in the inner loop to enable our immediate team to self-organise, be better aware of status and be more agile. We work out loud in the outer loop to benefit from serendipity, learning and discovery. One of the benefits of working out loud is that when we share our work openly other people can prompt us to open up further to the Outer Loop or coach us on the need to be more focused.
If we are always in transition between the two loops then what I thought was missing was an examination of that phase where people make a change in their way of working from one mode to the other. People don’t need to know ‘what to do where’ so much as they need to know when their current mode of work is ineffective. If we consider all the work that is thoughtlessly done as closed targeted communications in email, we quickly see the problem is not a problem of email as a tool. The problem is that people do not consider when they might need to change their way of working. When twigged to the need to change their approach to work or the tool that they use most people find ways to make that change work for them and their goals. The transition from one style of work to another is our opportunity to enrich and expand the understanding of value of collaborative work. This transition is the key moment in user adoption. It is also an opportunity to ensure we focus on the user behaviour in work, not the technology.
The transition phase between Inner and Outer Loops is also a reminder to all the enthusiastic and passionate advocates of particular collaboration platforms that transition is continuously happening and that tools like Yammer and Teams are ‘better together‘. There is value in exploring the complementary use of both tools. The better we are able to explain to users the value of a way of working and when we transition to another mode of working the better we will support their work. That goal is far more important to individuals and organisations than advocacy or adoption of a platform.
Focus on the User
For fear of taking a simple, easy-to-understand idea and making it so complex as to be useless, I thought it was worthwhile to tabulate characteristics of the user behaviour at work in the three modes: inner loop, outer loop and the moments where we transition. Each mode of work meets different needs and is better suited to different challenges. In the spirit of working out loud, here’s a first table which looks at the domains under a number of different user behaviour lenses. I have also included in the table common questions that might be asked in each of these phases as the work progresses:
A focus on this moment of change in the pattern of work raises the following important questions:
- what is it that prompts a user to look for a different way of working?
- how might we coach ourselves to transition effectively?
If we look at both the Inner and Outer Loop we can see some signs of stress when these modes are used in the wrong ways for work. The table below highlights some of these stresses and also some questions that leaders and team members can use to query whether it is time for a transition to a different mode of work:
Transition Into the Future
When you consider the first table above, you see that the items listed in Transition can occur in both the Inner or the Outer loop. These transition items are why you see enthusiastic supporters of one product or the other pushing across the divide. The Transition is also a realm where the two Product Marketing teams need to collaborate as competition will risk devaluing both products with further duplication and confusion over time. We will leave aside for the moment that you can expand Teams to manage a whole small organisation an InnerOuter Loop or run a daily team transparently in Yammer, the OuterInner Loop.
Bringing the Transition into focus also aligns the Inner and Outer Loop model into alignment with a model that Harold Jarche has been advocating for some time that draws an explicit distinction between Collaboration in teams, Communities of Practice and Cooperation in Networked Communities. The value of this connection is that Harold Jarche has developed extensive materials on his blog and in his books on the 3 different domains and patterns of work.
For example, Harold has explored the use of this model in Innovation at Work and even the connection to the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration that I have discussed at length here. A growing maturity of work across the four stages of the Value Maturity model comes as people are better able to handle the transition from connecting with an immediate team through to exploring innovation in the widest context. Mastery comes when people can hold all four stages at once around their personal work challenges and freely transition between the Inner and Outer Loop to Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate for greater value.
In future blog posts, we will explore other dimensions of the user behaviour of the Inner Loop, Outer Loop and Transition process. Examples of these issues include the nature of the networks involved, the leadership styles and the time periods involved:
Begin and End with User Behaviour
The focus on transition between the Inner and Outer Loop is also a reminder that for all the technology and all the powerful models what matters most is influencing new user behaviour. To do this effectively we must begin and end our work in change and adoption with a focus on what work users need to do now and what work we want them to be able to achieve in the future. Tools alone merely enable new interactions. The way people work requires them to make sense of new opportunities and to manage the change to new ways of working.
We must keep in the centre of consideration that these tools aren’t tools, media or technology we use for its own sake. These are tools of work interactions. Those human work interactions involve all the complexity of our human relationships with their questions of cultural expectations, trust, understanding and community. Our focus on the Inner and Outer Circle must keep the needs of these interactions at the centre of our new ways of working. The deeper we dive into how users can better leverage these tools to create new meaningful interactions, the richer the value we will create for both the users and the organisations of the future.
This is post is shared in the spirit of working out loud to gain feedback & start a discussion of the application of Inner and Outer Loops from a user behaviour, rather than a technology platform perspective. I would appreciate your thoughts and comments. My thanks to Steve Nguyen & Angus Florance of the Yammer team for their suggestions on how to turn the initial idea into something of more value to users and community managers.
Today was the first day of Microsoft’s Ignite Conference in Orlando, Florida. My focus at this event falls largely within Microsoft’s new Modern Workplace theme in its products. Here’s an overview of my takeaways from the first day.
Not the Future. Now
The rationale for the Modern Workplace strategy for Microsoft is a familiar one. We all have seen the ongoing digital transformation of business. We understand the competitiveness demands of an increasingly global, fast-paced, customer-led and digital marketplace. At the same time we are seeing a shift to a new generation of workers who have grown up with digital technologies as consumers and also bring a stronger set of demands for engaging purposeful work.
The rationale reminds us that new work practices, new work cultures and new work tools is not some abstract future challenge. The future is no longer Mobile-first applications it is AI-first applications, rethinking the product to put data-driven learning and its potential at the core, not process. The Quantum computing discussion from Satya Nadella’s keynote more than stretched our brains with new abstract ideas from maths, physics and computer science that are a few years from every desktop. The Modern Workplace is our workplaces now. To the extent organisations are not leveraging these technologies to their full there is missed value and missed potential. GE, a traditional leading case study, shared their work on workplace transformation if this point was missed by anyone.
People & Technology
This was not just a Technology showcase. People were a critical part of the dialogue of the day. Julia White asking the audience to see themselves as change agents. Satya Nadella discussed a variety of people themes inspired by Microsoft’s purpose to “empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Every session echoed with the constant discussion of changing culture and enabling new creative, new value and purpose in work and new teamwork.
We are not creating modern workplaces to sustain the work culture and practices of the last century. We are creating modern workplaces to drive change in culture, transform the nature of work and enable human potential. Even the strong focus on AI and automation that is usual threatened as a way to eliminate the humanity of work was strongly positioned as enhancing human creativity and enablement. The jury is out on that but don’t blame the technology. Humans will chose whether to use it to accelerate the industrial machine model of business of the past or to embrace a new frontier in human potential, tackling massive social and global issues and removing the mundane frustrations so all work has more meaning and value.
Modern Workplace Tools
At the heart of the new approach to the Modern Workplace is a focus on the diverse nature of work and the different patterns of collaboration. Microsoft has been long criticised for its seemingly complex product landscape and overlapping and at times competitive product teams. The new Modern Workplace strategy embraces that complexity as the ability to meet diverse work scenarios. One tool will not rule them all. Microsoft begins to help customers navigate that landscape through a focus on Microsoft Teams as the inner circle of goal directed work with predictable peers, for your work teams and projects and tools like Yammer as part of an outer circle of work involving unknown connection across the organisation for the benefits of discovery, diversity, inclusion and serendipity. Teaming and Collaboration have new focus in the digital workplace
Microsoft Teams will be heavily driven as the new platform for the Microsoft365 suite and its deep integration across Office365, Windows10 and more. Teams will begin to encompass the communication tools of Skype for Business and become the go-to hub for the inner circle of work. Email retains an important place in this landscape but so do increasing investments in LinkedIn integration, Bing Search integration, 3D, mixed reality, and analytics to power surprisingly seamless experiences on devices and driven by Cortana. Employees using Teams at Ford to share Virtual 3D designs may be a conceptual demonstration today but it’s clearly not too far ahead. That integration of collaboration & security for defined groups of workers using Teams will be appealing for many organisations dipping there toes in more agile and more collaborative work.
Most reassuring for a speaker at this event on the Digital Transformation potential of Yammer, we saw new investment in Yammer. With its new positioning on the Outer Circle of surprise, discovery, diversity and serendipity of work, comes a reiteration of its value for conversations organisation-wide, in communities and strategic initiatives. As Swoop Analytics research highlights, Yammer is one of the few tools that breaks Prof. Allen’s 50 meter rule – that the majority of interaction is with people within 50 metres. Working Out Loud played a key role in this focus in any discussion of Yammer or the Modern Workplace.
The significant investment in Yammer’s product roadmap belies the doomsayers. This begins with the interactions between Teams and Yammer. There’s new focus on Yammer’s depth of connection with Sharepoint, a great partner in the wider circle of sharing. The roadmap also included specific examples of better analytics, better integration with the Microsoft365 underpinnings, profiles and other apps, better mobile apps, greater breadth of APIs and continuing enhancement of user features like reactions, rich text and more. Most exciting for anyone who is an advocate for the value of community management was a new commitment to the community manager experience in Yammer from roles to access reports, to tools to help manage Yammer posts and groups, and a recommitment to the valuable but long ignored hashtag, a topic in Yammer. The future roadmap also highlights the focus for the next year on Yammer’s role for the whole organisation, communities and initiatives.
My Inner and Outer Circles In Real Life
I came to MS Ignite in large part to connect and reconnect. Today was an extraordinary day of conversation, challenge, learning and fun with collaborators and communities that support and enable my work. Opportunities to learn face to face from a breadth of these two circles makes the experience an intense one. You don’t want to miss a chance to learn and to share.
Lots to Digest. So What?
If you believe work is not changing, email is the only safe interaction pattern, and you won’t have employees soon, I doubt you read to the end of this post. If your views differ in any way, then the challenge for you and your organisation is to consider these questions:
- Strategy: Do you have a strategy to realise the value of the Modern Workplace for your employees and your organisation? Your competitors are becoming more engaging, more agile, more customer-focused and more innovative organisations now as these tools extend and adoption of new practices is developed. When will you see this potential?
- Investment: Do you have the investment in people, skills, capabilities, information and change necessary to leverage the potential today and into the future? Too many organisations see workplace, change and community management as peripheral roles. They are enabling all your people and all your work. Invest accordingly
- Culture: Does your organisation have the culture it needs to be effective in the next few years? Experiments, autonomy, new approaches, new practices, and new work styles need to be embraced now.
Lastly, an abstract mathematical thought for the day: “The square root of anything is more powerful”. Whatever it means, it is a testament to human genius and human potential. When we understand what that means we will have discovered the emergent value opportunity in both circles of the Modern Workplace.
The commonest error in plans to develop social collaboration in an organisation is the most obvious error. Too many plans aren’t focused on the work. You don’t have a strategy for realising the value of collaboration in your organisation if it doesn’t focus on the work of your organisation.
Early Friday morning last week was the #ESNChat tweet chat. Rita Zonius and Dion Hinchcliffe were discussing a question about the plans for developing ESNs. Dion reiterated an important point – adoption or other abstract goals don’t matter. Your business is in business and needs your employees doing something meaningful.
One Success Measure
The only measure of success that really matters to your business is the value that you create in your social collaboration. Value doesn’t have to be measured wholly in monetary terms but for a great majority of businesses value will have clear measures and commonly direct financial elements. Value creation, broadly defined, is what separates successful businesses from the pack.
Your organisation exists to fulfil some purpose. The strategy that is in place in your organisation sets out how you will maximise the value of the work to realise that purpose. If social collaboration in your organisation is not directly connected to this strategy and the value to be created for purpose, then everyone in your organisation has the right, and the obligation, to (a) question why it matters and (b) ignore it.
Measuring value in collaboration is hard. This challenge is greater when organisations are often sceptical of new ways or working or chains of benefits. Usually the benefit realisation happens away from the platform and is measurable only in other systems. Many proponents of social collaboration choose to ignore the hard to measure benefits and focus on easier to track goals, like adoption, satisfaction, sentiment, engagement or measures created specifically for the organisation’s collaboration plan. The danger of failing to align the measures of social collaboration to the measures of the meaningful work of the organisation is the danger of irrelevance.
The most damning criticism of many social collaboration networks showing high degrees of adoption and engagement is that they are a “parallel universe” to the real organisation and its interactions. In this parallel universe, the hierarchy is levelled, leaders are proactively engaging people in conversation, employees are empowered to speak up and discuss their whole lives and great strides are being made in engaging employees and advocating for social issues. In the office, not so much.
In this scenario, the lack of accountability for real work outcomes has allowed the collaboration network to drift into play-acting an ideal organisation. Without real work there are no hard decisions and no ugly compromises. Without real work, it is easier for everyone to get along. You only need a little bit of fantasy to undermine the interactions of an entire network.
When a collaboration network is focused on supporting the real work interactions that network is bound to what goes on across the organisation. There is a greater chance that the discussions in the network will reflect the issues, the challenges and the interactions that happen in the corridors of the conversation, for good and for bad. Getting tough work challenges into a collaboration network, as ugly as they may be, enables the network to help address and improve them.
Many organisations like the idea of a utopian network that shows them their better side. Role modelling is a valuable purpose. However, role modelling only works when the interactions are real. The network can only contribute to making those interactions better, if the work is being done in some way across the network. Without the work, there can be no greater value.
A better network for social collaboration does the hard work to fulfil the organisation’s strategy. You don’t have a strategy for your social collaboration if you don’t have that work and aren’t measuring its value.
Effective collaboration in your organisation depends on trust. The best way to build trust in your organisation is through collaborative work.
Trust is a consistent theme of this blog because it is fundamental to effective performance in organisations and social relationships. However, we mostly take it for granted and organisations often go out of their way to remind employees that they are not trusted and should not place their trust in the organisation.
Trust in the Work
One commenter on my recent post on collaboration and every day work suggested I was missing the need for trust to support collaboration. My response was that trust comes through actions and interactions. Organisations often talk about trust as an abstract and something that can be worked on itself.
The reality of most trust building activities is that they create no trust unless they are connected to the fundamental interactions of the organisation. Trust is a manifestation of the expectations of interactions in the organisation, i.e. culture. Trust is human. All the fancy trust building exercises will fail if people believe the real interactions that support the work will occur differently.
Founding trust in and around the work to be done is important. Collaboration can deliver this new foundation for trust. Transparency helps employees better understand what is going on in the organisation. Networks leverage that transparency to deliver new accountability to help people have confidence in the work of others. Collaboration networks better enable employees to judge the intentions and capability of others based on the past performance in public interactions with others. Each of these interactions fosters a better level of understanding of the potential for trust.
Most importantly of all, collaboration networks can increase the interactions and the experience of generosity between employees. We all find it hard to trust strangers. Sharing a social network enables people to develop a deeper understanding of all of their peers not just those in their own teams.
Organisations that want to increase the level of trust between employees can benefit from focus on encouraging employees to work out loud and seeking opportunities for collaboration in their everyday work.
Get Out of the Way
Organisations also need to take care that they send signals that reinforce the value of collaboration and trust in every day work. Treat collaboration as inherently risky and you will discourage your employees from participating, trusting their colleagues and trusting the organisation.
When collaboration technology enables new interactions in an organisation, it can be easy to identify all the new risks that can be created. The traditional corporate approach to risk is risk elimination. Why not turn off the solution or the feature that creates the risk so that there’s no exposure to one poor decision by an employee. However, to avoid a rare event, this approach either excludes collaboration opportunities from the organisation or signals to employees that they cannot be trusted.
A better management of those risks is to place accountability on employees to manage the risks, both for themselves and others. That is a signal of trust in your employees and your willingness to make them responsible for a better workplace. That’s usually how you manage those risks outside collaboration technology where you have less control over what employees say and do anyway. Treating collaboration technology as specially unsafe is a bad signal for trust and ignores the opportunity to teach employees to the benefit of all the work.
This last point is significant. Trust, collaboration, agency and agility that you grow in your collaboration platform doesn’t stay there. Each of these capabilities are based in our human characteristics and follow wherever your employees go. They spread through the whole organisation. Manage trust well in the collaboration of every day work and the whole organisation will benefit.
A recent conversation with Cai Kjaer and Laurence Lock Lee of Swoop Analytics about the Value Maturity Model highlighted a key point that is at the heart of many organisation’s struggles to get value from enterprise social collaboration. Too many organisations are stuck below the Share>Solve boundary. Once you connect enterprise social collaboration to work, the benefits for users and the organisation expand exponentially.
Sharing Out Loud
The first reaction in many organisations to an enterprise social network is to see it as a chance to share out loud. What people see first is the potential for status updates, sharing of articles, links and other stories of interest. This is natural human behaviour and it will be heavily influenced by the culture of social media use in your employee base.
As we have discussed in previous posts, sharing adds value in helping provide transparency, shared context, reducing duplication and enabling better alignment. If Sharing Out Loud is as far as the Working Out Loud goes then it can add value. Sharing is the core concept behind the knowledge worker productivity case for benefits of enterprise social collaboration. Share information and it is findable. Findable information can be reused.
Any organisation that does not move beyond Sharing will face a number of key challenges. Sharing is where there is a lot of noise. Filtering the sharing with groups and other approaches becomes important. Users get frustrated that there is so much information and so little value. Networks can alienate users because a few loud or extroverted voices dominate the traffic and shape perceptions of what an enterprise social network can contribute. Senior executives will quickly lose interest in a network that does not reflect their work and their strategic priorities. A network that is only sharing will need sustained energy from community management or passionate users to survive.
The Launch Point: The Sharing-Solving Boundary
When an enterprise social community crosses the boundary from Sharing to Solving, the dynamic changes. Bringing work into the community provides a momentum and new benefit cases for all users. The purpose of the community and the benefits it can provide begins to clarify and the distinction between an enterprise social and other forms of social media can clarify for people. The work itself begins to provide the energy, rhythm and momentum of the community.
We can help users to turn a Sharing Out Loud community into a Working Out Loud community through strategic community management. We can provide the right context and strategy for the use of collaboration. We can structure the opportunities for Connection, Solving, and Sharing around the key interactions and challenges of the work of the organisation. We can focus on the culture of collaboration and generosity in helping others. All of this helps users to sustain their activity in the Solving domain.
One other benefit of focusing on moving above this boundary is that you are building key foundations for innovation. Employees who develop confidence in an enterprise social collaboration solution as a place to solve their problems will begin to explore how to fulfill their new ideas there. People move easily from How? to What if? Employees who learn to create agile teams to solve problems can apply those same teaming skills to new ideas. The growing wirearchy of work can be reused to provide an engine to innovation work in your organisations.
Creating an environment where employees (& others) can work out loud on real business problems and challenging customer opportunities is the work of strategic community management. The value created beyond the Sharing-Solving Boundary is exponentially greater than that before. If you want the attention of the business stakeholders to support your community, you will need to Work Out Loud.
If you are interested in exploring further how to the Collaboration Value Canvas, enables organisations to conduct a two-hour workshop with business stakeholders to ensure that the business has an integrated plan for its community management and adoption work. Contact Simon Terry to discuss how this could be applied in your organisation.
For suggestions on how Swoop Analytics can help you measure this transition see Cai Kjaer’s post on Linkedin.
Session with Cai Kjaer, CEO of Swoop Analytics at Microsoft Ignite: