We’re beginning to see serious and rigorous study of public social networks in use for marketing, crisis management, etc., but that’s a bit easier -- it's all happening out in public, so we can see it and analyze it, thanks to the Twitter API. It's a bit harder to go into private enterprise systems and have a look (with some obvious and disturbing exceptions).

2. Connecting the dots

Second -- streams are nice. I adore Twitter. I adore our internal corporate tools that are similar to it. And here we've seen great adoption. We've turned our org into a giant chat room: an extension of Instant messenger or chat for all. There’s benefit in that.

Ambient awareness has huge benefits and is one of the key elements in making remote work work. But that’s not a "wirearchy," it does not make work visible in an actionable way, it does not cement team bonds, it connects only a modest set of dots, it is, in short, inadequate to change how we work, though it's a nice addition. We need to build the semantic, statistical, psycho-social and otherwise tools that goose the gods of serendipity.

3. Collaboration

Several years ago, I came up with a definition of collaboration that focused on three key ideas: creation, connection and compounding. I also observed that great teams shared four basic traits -- they had a shared sense of mission, they respected one another, they trusted one another and they were committed to achieving excellence.

We've since learned that very effective teams have great communications -- and very importantly -- members are more or less equal in the amount they contribute. No divas, no wallflowers. But we’re only seeing whispers of real actionable insight into how to contrive (or “cast”) these magically great teams. Leadership, yes, balance and matching of people -- yeah, we sorta kinda know we have to do that, but few of us know how.

How is most collaboration achieved? What is the type, volume and velocity of information that needs to be exchanged? Is this the same of variable by team? By task? By... what? How can teams connect to the whole and vice versa?

We’ve learned some other things too. What is the number one source of employee disengagement? Opacity of the organization. We have no idea what is going on, therefore we know we aren't contributing meaningfully, and can’t contribute meaningfully, so we’re sullen. Turns out sullen employees (otherwise known as the disengaged) don’t churn out the best work.

How are we fixing that? Ten years ago we tried dashboards based on BI -- that didn't really help, and was too metrics-y and therefore, more likely than not, punitive so it didn't work. Streams? Not the way we currently use them.

4. Teams and Organizations

We've done some good work here. Shared workspaces and profiles have helped many organizations know themselves better, work more efficiently and collaborate more seamlessly. But adoption here has been very hard for many, and even where adoption is high, we are still not meeting our ultimate goal of seamless, common operating pictures -- shared knowledge, group insight.

I want to know more about where the actual work gets done. We believe it mostly happens in teams. There are several types of teams, and I think we need to start paying careful attention to the differences between them.

Why do we have different kinds of teams? What makes them different? How can we use technology to help them? How do teams and the organization as a whole relate to each other. What work is going on in the organization and who is involved? What is the pace? What are the outcomes? When we say visible work -- are we thinking about it the wrong way? Maybe we should focus on making the patterns of activity visible more than simply the typing of individuals.

How many teams are in your organization right now? How many are project teams? How many are committees, how many are swarms responding to urgent miscellaneous stuff? How many teams are people on? At what rate do they form and finish? Is it a stable number? Are some people on more teams than others? Is that good or bad?

I have no idea. But that’s unacceptable. We need to start knowing these things.

Here’s one hypothesis to begin the discussion. There are (at least) five different kinds of teams.

  1. Structural: These are the teams that we can see on the org chart. Marketing, HR, R&D, etc. In larger orgs, these break down even further -- hierarchically.
  2. Cross functional: These are the teams that collect people from across the organization for various purposes. In my world, these are often product teams.
  3. Project: These are people that have come together for a very specific and time bound purpose and deliverable.
  4. Interests and Communities of Practice: These are groups that support one another emotionally, socially or professionally, and you’ll see many of them within an organization. 
  5. Swarms: These are the long lists of people, many of whom you've never met, who are on the cc line of that last reply-all-urgent email trail you were on. You feel this pain like I do, right?

5. Really Visible Work

There are many ways that these teams are different, but the most obvious is how they form. Think about it -- I’ll spare you (and my editors) the 1000 words I could write here on it for another time. Maybe you’ll write them for me.

There are other important differences too. Quick -- give me three ways we could help these different types of teams be more effective. But wait! Why do we have these different types of teams and what do they tell us about the organization? Would visibility into what teams are where and when and why help us? In what way? Would we be more engaged once and for all if we could see all this? Is this what we should be talking about when we say “visible work”?

Next?

The paradigm doesn't need to complete its shift for us to be squeezing more value out of it now. We do not need to wait until the majority of CEOs agree with “us” (whoever us is). We can start now, if we ask the right questions. If we continue to ask questions, rather than construct success. Today is the day to stop “proving” we’re right, and start thinking about what’s next. Our successes are real, and there, and let them be reported. But, the immutable law of physics still applies. People will adopt a tool when its easier to use than not to.

This is a great time to do it. We've had some important successes. Social Collaboration is an accepted part of mainstream business. We've settled in a bit and we have an important opportunity to step back and formulate some really hard questions. We have greenfield ahead of us. But we have a lot of good honest work to do to the bridge the chasm, and I for one am vibrating with things I want to do next. You?

The best is yet to come.

Sincerely yours,

Deb

Editor's Note: To read more of Deb's writing, check out 'Social Business' is Only Half of Enterprise 2.0