Social Networking "Creates" a Collaboration Culture – Kim Nash

Kim argues that social networking creates a culture of collaboration:

Remember knowledge management? In the 1990s, KM emerged as a way to collect and share expertise across a company. Employees would fill out profiles for a database about their skills and knowledge. Colleagues could query the system to find the best person to help with a project.

Pooling employee brainpower, KM proponents said, would speed up and refine how a company operates by facilitating collaboration. But KM never swept the corporate nation. People would forget to update their profiles, or find doing so too cumbersome, and the database would become less useful. For KM to work, people have to want to capture, catalog and share what they know.

Now advanced collaboration tools, combined with a fresh mind set about sharing inspired by social networking, are reviving KM,

Kim’s reasoning appears to be as follows:
– One company deployed PBworks to help people work together. As a result, knowledge is captured as part of work, as it happens.
– 500 million people use Facebook for keeping in touch with friends, and this can be applied within organizations.
– The technology of social networking makes it easy to share information about your personal life, and this will transition across to the enterprise too.
– Tools that allow people to share their social context, while getting work done as well, will promote collaboration.
– Being able to tap many information sources makes “collaboration work best.”

My Comments
1. I’m skeptical of any claim that says a technology or tool “creates” a particular culture, especially within a well-established organization with a lot of history. There are too many other factors at play to argue causation, although correlation is much clearer. It plays a role – but it doesn’t “cause” it.

2. I really like the way Andy put it, during a phone conversation with me recently. He works for a very large firm, and when they put in Lotus Connections, he told his management that the tools “would reveal our existing culture.” I guess he wouldn’t mind me adding that once revealed, the tools can then be used to reinforce that culture, or lead to modifications.

3. A big reason why the KM solutions of the 1990s failed within organizations is because they were culturally positioned as a way of codifying what someone knew, so that if they left or were fired, you’d still have their brain / know-how. That’s a cultural turnoff in the extreme. If today’s social networking tools were deployed in an organization with the same cultural intent today, you would get the same turnoff.

4. There is some evidence that familiarity with social networking tools in one’s personal life makes it easier for them to adopt and pick-up the tools in an enterprise setting, but the motivations for doing so are fundamentally different. At home, it’s about keeping up with friends and doing cool stuff together. At work … it may not be. Again, cultural intent makes a big difference.

5. There is good evidence that the more another person knows about you as a person – through the sharing of non-task based information – the better cohesion there will be between the two and in the team. Eg., see TheAppGap’s February 2009 article on The ROI of being social at work.

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