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?

Value the Individual

Value in collaboration is created by individual actions.

In building value for organisations through social collaboration we often resort to discussing the group, the team, the community and the network. There is lots of literature that references these terms and makes recommendations at these levels. Applying traditional business thinking we can lose sight of the individual and focus only on aggregates.

Networks don’t connect. Individuals take advantage of a network to connect with other individuals. Networks don’t share. Individuals share information in networks. The further we move into working, solving and innovating in networks the clearer it is that the value is created by individual actions multiplied by the power of a network.

Focusing on these individual actions is important because it reminds us to study individual motivations, mindsets and behaviours in the creation of effective collaboration. A culture of collaboration exists only in the expectations and behaviours of individuals. More importantly it enables us to talk to individuals about the value & practices of collaboration in language they understand. Nobody says to themselves ‘I need to engage transparently and collaboratively with an enterprise community’. People are looking to advance their work and their personal goals in tangible ways. People articulate often abstract concepts like generosity, authority, reciprocity, enagagement and trust in terms of very tangible actions in everyday work.

Aggregates give us opportunities to talk in lofty terms. Abstract capitalised bound abound. Many of these nouns seduce us with appeals to ideals not everyday actions. Real value is created with change driven using the language of individual users. If you value the individual, they will return the favour.

Breaking Down the Value Creation Opportunities in A Yammer Post

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Value is created in enterprise social networks as people connect, share, solve and innovate together. That value creation is an outcome of the work people choose to do together. Measuring the activity in the technology isn’t a measure of the value created, it is simply a measure of adoption. The value of the adoption comes from the organisations strategy and the work of its teams.

However, the features in a typical Yammer post, or any enterprise social network, can give us a guide as to how people come together in networks to work in new ways.  Let’s break down a Yammer post using the Value Maturity Model so see how new organisational value gets created.

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Connection brings people in the organisation together often for the first time.  That connection can be a simple as the feeling of belonging or recognition when a post gets a like. It might be bringing people together around a topic of current need or ongoing mutual interest like a community of interest or a community of practice.  Most directly, connection can be a way in large, distributed or siloed organisations to find the people responsible and get in touch to move work forward. 

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Sharing lifts information out of its hiding places, makes it findable and directs it to people who need to know. That can happen in the enterprise network through replies that answer common questions for everyone’s benefit, provide links to information or provide documents meeting a present need and saving future time and searches.  Shares make sure information reaches the right people whether a group, an individual through a private message or even by taking a message out to email to those who don’t regularly use the network. All sharing is silo-busting. Adding topics, either in a message or later, provides people new ways to navigate information and helps make information searchable. Sharing creates a rich domain for social learning and helps the new employee seeking to learn more. A culture of sharing fosters working out loud to help people achieve personal purposes, bring work to the surface and further increase these benefits. Most importantly of all, this activity helps build a shared and discoverable context for the work of the organisation reducing errors, duplication and improving problem solving and efficiency.

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Value creation accelerates when an enterprise social network becomes a way for people to come together to work on solving problems. People can ideate, offer solutions and work together in the thread or in groups to discuss ways to solve work problems with existing or new solutions. Having a way to discuss and work through problems in products, policy or process, either through fixes or hacks, helps the organisation continue to flow for those doing the work. The problems raised in this way are able to be solved not just for one user but for everyone in the organisation. The value of these solutions will increase as the problems that teams tackle increase in value. Leaders, experts and creative individuals can help enable the organisation to move past its daily obstacles and create better experiences for customers, employees and other stakeholders. The benefits here are in work in the network and out in the organisation that continuously and responsively improves organisational effectiveness.

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Innovation adds value to the organisation when employees feel enabled and encouraged to put forward possibilities, to seek ways to make them happen and to recruit capabilities and coalitions to experiment and execute on opportunities.  Vibrant communities will work well beyond a single post out into the broader organisation to make their ideas a reality and help the organisation to respond to its opportunities. Innovation allows employees to explore ways to better fulfil the purpose of the firm, to radically reshape the processes of their work and to deliver new forms of value.

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Design the Work

Don’t design workflow for the product features. Design work for the people. Let them improve the process from there.

Features Change

Microsoft MVP Melanie Hohertz, Online Communications Lead of Cargill recently remarked in conversation ‘People need to stop designing workflow in Yammer around product features’. This comment is needs to be more widely understood as it is a key source of frustration for many community managers and their organisations. I am not surprised Melanie would so simply distill the issues vexing community managers with Yammer. Melanie is always insightful about Yammer, based in both her excellent command of the product capabilities but also her expertise in community management.

Cloud software solutions have brought powerful new capability into our organisations. However they have also created havoc with traditional ways of working due to their agile product development methodology.

Processes Don’t Change

The process-centric history of management means we try to turn much of our work into a tightly defined process. Many organisation take agile cloud solutions like Yammer and build their features into tightly structured workflow. This process centric approach doesn’t work.

Yammer’s product development is highly agile. Product features change to a loose roadmap but also as a result of a continuous program of A/B testing. We might wish for greater certainty and transparency, but the agile approach isn’t going to change.

The testing enables Yammer’s product managers to learn from the use of the solution by all their users. Your unique use case of a tightly defined custom workflow won’t fit in this approach. That one workflow is a blip among the way millions of users engage with the tool. Melanie’s insight means that we need to step outside our traditional process-centric view and embrace a people-centric approach.

Collaboration takes Community

The opportunity with collaboration in the future of work is for people to be able to reshape their work. Collaboration is not just a layer over the process. Don’t design a process for the features of the tool. Design around the people, those who do the work. Give them the capability to shape their work. Help them to become more agile and adaptable. Let the people take their work forward from there. People will learn in time to navigate the changing features, adapting them to their needs. The product roadmap matters far less than the creativity and agility of community.

Supported in the right ways, people will improve their work through creating new network connections, sharing information, solving challenges and continuously creating new ways of working. The results will be more agile, more collaborative and more effective.

Algorithms Work Out Loud

Whether we like it or not, working out loud is coming as a work trend. The benefits for productivity, learning and effectiveness from working out loud make greater transparency and connection in our work inevitable. If we do not work out loud, it will be our tools that work out loud for us.

Algorithms Ascendant

If you have any interest in digital trends you will have noted the news that software beat the world’s best Go player 4-1. I’ve played a little Go and even at a much smaller scale than a competition board it is a mind-bendingly tricky game that relies on intuition as well as logic. Software being able to beat a Go master so comprehensively is a significant development because analysts had forecast it could be up to a decade before Go fell. Go is too complex for a simple brute force strategy of computation of possible paths. 

The breakthrough occurred because the Google team developing AlphaGo didn’t just rely on one source of technical expertise or one strategy to beat a Go Master. AlphaGo improved itself by testing multiple strategies in machine learning, specifically learning better models of play each time it watched or played a game of Go.  AlphaGo’s success reflected a key benefit of working out loud – learning through observation and experience of not just one’s own practice but also the practice of other Go algorithms and Go masters.

Algorithmic Insight

Whether we practice working out loud or not, the software around us is already beginning to leverage our work to learn and enhance its effectiveness. Social media sites are all moving to algorithmic display because they can leverage our behaviour and relationships to better meet our needs (& their own business models).  I remember my resistance when Yammer first implemented an algorithmic feed and moved away from following. I thought there was no way that I would value the algorithms choice of messages over my own curation of content through following strategies. These concerns passed quickly in use and it has been a long time since I reflected on the need for a better following model.  Incidentally, Yammer moved to this change as a result of analytics and A/B testing, leveraging the work of thousands of customers to find better ways to build its product.

These algorithms are coming deeper into our work. I recently had a demonstration of Microsoft Office’s Delve and Delve Analytics. My takeaway was here was that I was looking at the potential for algorithms and analytics to turbocharge the value by leveraging a form of passive automation of working out loud. Clearly tools like Delve can help by reducing search, however they can also deliver further benefits for learning, collaboration and business value by helping make working out loud a default practice in the future of work.

Delve offers a key way to address the concerns many critics of working out loud raise. Today working out loud requires an individual to push their work out visibly so that others can pull the work for the purpose of learning or collaboration. That first push upsets some critics as it is seen as contributing to noise, raising the possibility of unconstructive distraction or requiring incremental effort from the worker. My experience is that the benefits far outweigh this minor inconvenience.  However, algorithms and analytics like Delve, change this game by leveraging our working behaviours to pull information and insights from the work of others and make them available to enable us to better learn or to find better practice. 

Solutions like Delve enable all of our working out loud practice to rest on a pull model. If Delve can surface a document that I need to see or I can use from the work of my peers then it doesn’t rely on any more effort from my peer that to enable this sharing and configure privacy and security settings. If Delve Analytics can help me to learn how better to use Microsoft’s productivity tools by supplying insights on my use and that of my peers, then again it does not require my colleagues to measure, document and share their approaches. A similar example is that Swoop Analytics have now released Swoop personas to enable each user of an enterprise social network like Yammer to understand their personal style and effectiveness in the use of the platform. 

The trajectory of innovation is that these algorithms will be increasingly effective and increasingly deeply integrated into our products.

Is that it?

If algorithms are the answer, it that it? Do we no longer need the human practice of working out loud? Why don’t we just wait?

There is an adoption challenge of sorts with the coming algorithms. Algorithms can help with insight, but they cannot address the human side of openness to learn, willingness to experiment and ability to handle the social elements of working out loud.  We all need to learn to be able to manage new practices and to have mindsets to be able to benefit from the change.  These mindsets stretch from an attitude of generosity, desire for connection, a move from reliance on personal expertise and through to the ability to handle odd moment of embarrassment. If we do not get the mindsets right, then we will miss the benefits of new ways of working.

The value of the practice of working out loud now is that it enables each of us to learn important social skills in the network era: building connections, reciprocity, generosity and how to create and sustain the creation of value in networks.  The networks and the algorithms are not going away. The challenge for all those seeking to be ready for the future of work is to learn how best to leverage these new models.

Just like AlphaGo, those who are already working out loud are discovering new practices and approaches to work through their own work and through watching the practices of others. You can wait for an algorithm to arrive to make the change for you or you can get ahead of the curve and enhance your practice of working out loud.

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.

Create a Reputation Economy

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Connecting and Sharing create a reputation economy in your organisation to underpin the trust and collaboration required to Solve and Innovate.

Four topics are commonly discussed in communities around enterprise social networks:

  • Why would anyone go out of their way to help others?
  • How do we increase the value of collaboration in our organisation?
  • What is the role of leaders?
  • How do we cut down the gossip and non-work conversation in our network?

The answer to these four questions are connected to one element of successful networks: they create a reputation economy in the community that fosters collaboration.

The Value of Reputation

Humans aren’t the rational economic machines that most organisations try to manage with role descriptions, performance plans and other incentives. Humans do things outside the job description and the process every day.  We work around the hierarchy.  Importantly, we collaborate because we value relationships and we know that the returns from collaboration exceed the costs in our effort.

One of the challenges of collaboration is the danger that others will free ride on your efforts, improving their performance but bearing none of the costs. Mark Pagel’s Wired for Culture uses evolutionary approaches to behaviour to examine an important part of our defences against free riding, reputation.  Because our relationships with our work colleagues are not transactional, over time we build a level of trust and a reputation for each colleague based on their behaviour.  This reputation system influences who and how we collaborate with others.

Ever wondered why a users first ever request for help or crowd sourcing of ideas will usually struggle?  They have no reputation in the community and others will hang back until someone shows they can be trusted. 

Increasing the transparency and connection of reputation in your organisation will accelerate collaboration not just in a social network or other tool.  Collaboration across the organisation will leverage the new transparent reputations developed.

Building Reputation

We don’t build reputation with our status in the organisation or by declaring we can be trusted.  We build reputation through with who we are associated and how we act, particularly when we act against our interest.

The Connect and Share phases of the maturity of a collaboration community enable people to develop these critical stages of reputation. Working out loud for the benefit of others can accelerate that trust.  As can demonstrating and encouraging a growth mindset.   Sharing information, insights and solutions, particularly when there is no reason or benefit to the sharer is a powerful way to build a reputation.  Others sharing without penalty and preferably receiving benefits establishes the view in the community that it is safe.

The reputations and the trust built in Connect and Share are what powers the value in the later stages of the model.  People contribute later because they know that their contributions go to those who they respect and have the interests of the community at heart.

The Importance of Leaders

Leaders bring status into communities. However, as noted above, the presence of status is not enough to create or sustain trust.  Actions by leaders count.  

Leaders can play a critical role in showing the way to build reputation and in establishing that collaboration is safe and beneficial.  Importantly, leaders can use their authority to calling out free-riding behaviour and encourage participation by others. Leaders can acknowledge the reputations built in the community giving them greater influence in the organisation.

Leaders also need to be aware that their status also brings a fragility to their own personal reputations.  If they fail to act in the community to reinforce their authority, it will erode rapidly.

The Critical Role of Gossip & Non-Work Conversation

Organisations hate gossip and non-work conversation. They are seen as a threat to the singularity of corporate messaging and a waste of time.

However, gossip and non-work conversation are critical parts of reputation systems.  Gossip is how we share our views of others reputations. Non-work conversation is another way for us to share and build our reputations with others.

Create a reputation economy in your collaborative community by fostering connection and sharing.

The Value Maturity Model is an approach to enhancing the value of collaboration in your organisation.  The Model is supported by a range of tools and practices to enable leaders and community managers to maximise the potential in collaboration.  If you would like to learn more about the Value Maturity Model, get in touch with Simon Terry.

Value is a fractal

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Enterprise social networks are made up of individuals who form their own groups and networks and the community is an aggregation of each of these components. We need to remember this structure when we start to think of value in enterprise social networks.

From Top-Down to Every Scale

One resulting characteristic of value in enterprise social networks is that they resemble a fractal, a mathematical shape that shows similar characteristics at any scale. Value in an enterprise social network does not only occur at the aggregate level.

Smaller scale activities are more important to sustain and grow the development of value across the whole network. There is less opportunity to order or impose value creation in a network than in traditional hierarchies where top down value is the priority and individual value is rarely considered.

Value For Users and Groups Makes a Network

Individual and group practices that create value are the underpinning of value for the whole network. Value comes from connection, sharing information, solving problems and innovating for an individual or the whole community. Without this value to the individual or group, no value creation at the network level will sustain itself.

Individuals and groups must understand and see the value being created to continue to work in new ways in the network. Developing the maturity of a network means building this sense of how value is created and how it aligns to strategic goals.

Create a Sense of Value at Every Scale

The power of the Value Maturity Model is that it is designed to take advantage of this characteristic. The method can be shared with users, with groups and with the whole community to help them make sense of how value is created for them and for the network.

Secret tools of community managers or organisational leaders won’t help individual users and groups find their own path forward to value. The power of value creation in an enterprise social network is the ability to leverage people’s potential to help

If you would like to create greater value in your enterprise social network or discuss how the Value Maturity Model applies to assist your organisation to create strategic value through enterprise social networking and collaboration, please get in contact. I am available through @simongterry or Linkedin or www.simonterry.com