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Large team challenges

| enterprise2.0, sketches, web2.0

What collaboration challenges do large teams face? Here are the key problems I often hear from people, organized in a rough flow of how teams encounter them within each category. Can you help me improve this list?

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Assets and knowledge

  • Large attachments: People feel this particularly strongly in IBM because the system imposes “mail jail” if your mail database goes over a certain size, and it can take hours for people to archive and reorganize their mail in order to accept the attachment. The problem is exacerbated by large distribution lists that include people for whom the attachment is not relevant. Costs: Wasted time, increased server storage costs, increased bandwidth costs
  • Knowledge maps: Assets are scattered in different repositories and websites. People don’t have an overview of the different information sources the team uses, what to find where, and what to look at first.  Costs: Wasted time figuring things out again or answering FAQs, duplicate work, duplicate storage, time spent answering FAQs
  • Getting knowledge out of people’s heads: When teams start building their knowledge maps, they often realize that much of the knowledge their team relies on has not been written down. Costs: Wasted time figuring things out again or answering FAQs, duplicate work, increased risk of project delay or failure if a team member becomes unavailable. This challenge is usually broken down into:
    • Expertise mapping: Without a shared understanding of team roles, the team can suffer lack of coordination and duplicate work. Even with a rudimentary expertise mapping system such as a list of people and their roles, new team members can begin to find people who may have the assets they need. Without an expertise map, team members must rely on a few well-connected managers or team members to find people, and the process of personal referral can take time.
    • Products and assets: The next step after expertise location is asset-sharing. Without an asset repository of deliverables and working documents that people can reuse, team members may need to keep reinventing the wheel.
    • Experiences, ideas, tips, and best practices: If people can invest in examining and improving their processes and tools, they can share these tips with other team members and contribute towards emerging best practices. Without this kind of reflective practice, however, team members may waste time and miss opportunities due to ineffective or obsolete processes.
  • Managing turnover and risk: As new team members come on board and other team members leave or become unavailable (vacation, retirement, sickness, etc.), the team needs to adapt. Without documented processes and easy-to-find assets, new team members can’t work as effectively. Onboarding effectiveness also affects  morale for both new members and existing team members. If team members become unexpectedly unavailable, the project could fail or be significantly delayed. Costs: wasted time, missed opportunities, less flexibility

Interaction

  • Meetings: With an increasingly globally-distributed workforce, teams need to learn how to use virtual collaboration tools more effectively. Telephone-only meetings can lead to limited interaction or disengagement. Face-to-face working sessions can incur significant time and financial investments. Costs: Wasted time, travel costs
  • Teambuilding: Without traditional team-building events, team members may not feel as vested in their team’s success, or as comfortable collaborating with people they rarely or have never met. Costs: More friction in communication and teamwork, less effective work, less trust, limited growth opportunities
  • Communication: Multiple one-way broadcasts can be overwhelming for team members, who may end up ignoring newsletters and other e-mail. Without broad feedback channels, team leaders risk having limited insights and lack of buy-in. Costs: Lack of communication and shared vision, duplicate work
  • Peer-to-peer communication: Without a way to communicate with the larger team without being overwhelmed, members may end up collaborating with only a handful of people. They don’t benefit from other people’s experiences or shared resources, and other people can’t build on their work. Costs: Wasted time, duplicate work, more limited growth opportunities

External

  • Working with people outside the team: Team members often need to work with people who may not have access to the team’s resources. This collaboration typically involves lots of e-mail. New collaborators may not be aware of the project history or assets. Distribution lists go out of date or are not consistently used. No one has the complete picture of the project. Costs: Wasted time, frequent miscommunications
  • Working with people on multiple projects: The problem of coordination is exacerbated when team members juggle multiple projects. Making sure that new collaborators receive all relevant, up-to-date information can take a lot of time if the assets and project decisions are scattered among lots of messages in people’s inboxes. Costs: Wasted time, frequent miscommunication
  • Publishing externally-facing information: A team often needs to provide overviews and other information for other groups. Without a single up-to-date collection of information, team members need to find and send the most relevant information each time it’s requested. Costs: Wasted time, inaccurate information
  • Regularly coordinating with other teams: A team may need to regularly keep up to date with the work of relevant teams, without being overloaded by updates. Cadence meetings take time and can be difficult to schedule. Without a record of the discussions and other ways to share updates, team members may struggle to identify relevant news in a time-effective manner. Costs: Duplicate or incompatible work, leading to wasted time

Does that resemble what you see? How can we make this list better?

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Goal: Map the challenges, look for teams that address these challenges well, make preliminary recommendations based on their practices, and  then help teams identify their priorities and next steps

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I’d like to build the post-connector workplace

| connecting, enterprise2.0, ibm, social, web2.0

In a large organization, there are two ways to create great value: you can know a lot, or you can know a lot of people. Even within formal hierarchies, there are connectors who influence without authority. As organizations take advantage of social networking tools, connectors can keep in touch with more and more people.

Even new hires can be connectors. It’s a great way to get all sorts of interesting opportunities.

It can be tempting for connectors to try to hang on to that power. They might introduce people to each other, but not share their organizational knowledge of who’s where.

Me, I want to build the post-connector workplace.

I don’t want the power that comes from being the relationship or information broker. I don’t want to be the perpetual go-between. I want to build what I know into the foundation, so that everyone can use it. For me, that means building strong communities and knowledge maps.

Why?

Even connectors who can remember thousands of people are biased by recall and limited by their networks. Passing a question through personal networks take time and result in a lot of duplicates. Networks that depend on connectors lose a lot when those connectors leave.

I’d rather look for new talent than just refer people to the people who come to my mind first. I’d rather build the capabilities into the organization so that everyone knows where to go and how to connect. I try to share everything I’m learning, and I work on connecting dots in public instead of in private.

It’s not about how many followers you have or how influential you are, but about how well the organization and the world works even after you move on.

Thanks to Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the nudge to think about connectors!

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Around the watercooler

| ibm, web2.0, work

I attended a virtual watercooler session for the IBM CommunityBuilders community yesterday afternoon. It was great hearing from other people who are also figuring out how to help others use social networking tools to build community. We’re dealing with many of the same issues: encouraging adoption, facilitating participation, keeping up to date. One of the incredible things about working in a huge company like IBM is being able to tap a breadth of perspectives and learn from so many people around the world.

There’s been such a big shift over the past few years. The questions we get from clients and coworkers alike used to focus on what and why and how, like “What’s Twitter? Why would anyone use it? How do I get started?” We still get questions like that, but more interesting questions have emerged. Now that enough of the tools and enough of the culture has taken root, we can start looking for interaction patterns. We can look at how communities and teams use combinations of tools, how that influences their processes and results, and how the discussions flow.

There’s so much that still needs to be explored. I want to help figure out how we can more effectively connect and collaborate, and that work is just beginning.

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Braindump: Social media advice for events

| web2.0

If this is something you’re attending:

  • Figure out the hashtag people are using to talk about the event on Twitter. Share what you’re looking forward to, connect with people who are going, and start the conversation.
  • Blog about the event, linking to the site and to other people who are talking about it. Connect with other people who are going.
  • Take notes and share them on your blog. Link to your notes on Twitter. Send e-mail following up with contacts, including a link to your notes.

If this is something you’re organizing:

  • Pick a hashtag, promote it, and link to it on the conference webpage.
  • Keep an eye out for people, tweets, and blog posts related to the conference. Link. Consider using hashtags.org
  • Consider asking for blogging volunteers. Link to their work.
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Microblogging talk

Posted: - Modified: | lotus, presentation, web2.0

I’ve promised to give a short talk on microblogging for the knowledge and collaboration community (KCBlue) at work. Might be a good time to practice animation, too. =)

5 minutes: 750 words, 20 minutes: 3,000 words (throw pauses in there too)

Creativity loves constraints. I want to fit the core of my message into 5 minutes (approximately 750 words), with each “part” being 140 characters or less.

This will be a launching pad for discussion, which will take up most of the allotted time. I’ll switch to Q&A with a summary slide that includes Why and Beyond the Basics so that it’s easy for people to remember what they want to ask questions about. I’ll use five minutes at the end to wrap up, and I’ll post links and follow-up material in a blog post. I’ll collect e-mail addresses so that I can notify people when I’ve posted an update.

I plan to make hand-drawn slides for each of the sections, and maybe even animation if I get around to it. =)

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The Whys and Hows of Microblogging

Why use Twitter? Why update your status on Facebook or Lotus Connections? Let’s talk about why people microblog and how you can get more value out of these tools.

Don’t know whom to e-mail? Don’t have the time to write a blog post? Post a short, quick update that people can read if they’re there.

What can you fit in 140 or so characters? A single thought. A question. Maybe a link.

What can you get? Broad, rapid, almost real-time conversations, if you’ve got a good network.

Here’s what you can do to build that network, and why you’d want to.

  • Learning: Follow role models and learn from what they’re doing. Build the relationship by thanking them for tips and ideas.
  • Updates: Do your favourite stores post updates? Find out what’s on sale and when the cookies have come out of the oven.
  • Customer service: Good experience? Bad experience? Post an update and you might be surprised by who’s listening.
  • Events: Interested in an event? Find out who’s going and what people think. Going there in person? Meet up at tweetups and get to know more people.
  • Awareness: Miss those watercooler chats? Microblogging’s better. You can keep in touch with way more people, and you don’t even have to stand up.
  • Passing things along: Like what someone shared? Share the good stuff by re-posting with credit. Look at how people do it, and follow their example.
  • Sharing: Want to build your network? Make people happy and help them grow by sharing tips and answering questions.
  • Questions: Need a quick answer but don’t know whom to ask? Post your question and you just might get a tip. You’ll need a good network for this.

NOTE: No one expects you to read everything. Don’t get addicted. It’s okay if you miss people’s updates.

How to get started:

Twitter: Sign up on twitter.com. Look for people. Follow them. Reply when you have something to say. Share what you’re doing and learning.

Lotus Connections Profiles: Log in. Look for people. Invite them to your network. Reply when you have something to say. Share what you’re doing and learning.

There are more microblogging services out there. Explore. Find out what works for you.

Beyond the basics:

  • Apps: Use a microblogging client like Tweetdeck to make reading and posting easier. Explore and find out which tool fits you.
  • Cross-posting: Synchronize automatically, or use a tool to post on multiple services. MicroBlogCentral can handle Twitter and Lotus Connections Profiles.
  • Personas: Don’t want to mix work and life? Don’t want to overwhelm people with too many updates? Use multiple accounts to give people choices.
  • Group posting: Corporate brand? Team account? You can use tools to make it easy for many people to post to the same account.
  • Strategy: Where does microblogging fit into your strategy? Post quick updates and interact with people. Link to your main site in your profile.

Next steps:

Pick a reason why you want to microblog, and go for it. How can I help you make the most of these tools?

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Getting started on your web presence

Posted: - Modified: | blogging, web2.0

One of my mentees asked: in terms of public web presence, should you have a website, a blog, both of the above, or one site that serves both purposes?

These are some things I’ve learned after eight years of having a public web presence:

Have one site. It’s less confusing and it makes it easier for people to get to know you. Work-life separation or anonymous blogging may sound appealing. If that’s what it takes for you to get started, go for it (knowing that anonymity is very hard to keep). But it’s easier to have one persona and one site.

I find that it’s too much work to keep track of multiple personas and multiple sites. My internal/external split is hard enough for me to remember to update. ;)

Yes, there are lots of wildly popular niche bloggers with tightly-focused sites and tens of thousands of subscribers. You’re not there yet. When you get to the point of having tons of great material you can share, you can syndicate or revise things for a separate focused blog or site.

Get your own domain name. It means never having to change URLs or e-mail addresses again, and you don’t have to rely on a third-party blog/web host to stay free or to be in business.

If your name is hard to spell (like mine is), get another domain name and point it to the same content, configuring your web server so that search engines don’t punish you for duplicate sites. For example, I use sachachua.com , but livinganawesomelife.com is easier for people to remember.

It doesn’t matter if your domain name goes to your blog or to an overview. I prefer that sachachua.com shows people my blog because I have many frequent visitors, so it’s easier to go directly to what people are interested in. Fresh content is good. Other people start with an overview that links to their blog. Either way works.

Try starting with a blog or microblog. Set up your site so that you think about updating it. Yes, it’s easy to just put up an “About Me” page. Static pages are useful. But static pages tend to stay static. Start a blog and use it as a staging area where you can write about what you’re thinking. Set up your blog editor so that you can publish to your blog easily. Add blogging to your task list as a recurring task. Use it to cc: world. As you write, you’ll find things that you’ll want to “promote” to regular pages on your website. Treat your blog as your working area, and then use that to think about and create your static content.

Don’t worry about getting started. Just start. You’ll tweak your web presence over time as you find inspiration and you figure out what fits. Get something out there. It’s easy to revise something that exists than to stare at a blank page.

Thanks to Brian O’Donovan for the question!

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Information gardening tasks

| web2.0, work

A large part of my work involves capturing and organizing information. It takes a surprising lot of time and thought. Here are some of the things I do:

  • Capture and file information, relevant mail, work in progress, final output, etc.
  • Help people find information and improve the findability along the way
  • Create and refine navigation (links, new pages, etc.)
  • Move information from private spaces to public spaces
  • Facilitate and summarize online discussions
  • Coach people on tool use and answer support questions
  • Document and refine processes
  • Set up communities, discussions, and other sub-sites
  • Recommend processes and improvements
  • Correct obsolete links and assets

I do that across multiple tools (Wikis, Communities, TeamRooms, Activities, e-mail), with a team of mixed early, mainstream and late adopters and changing communities of learners.

I think of this as information gardening. I can’t architect a beautiful information structure from the beginning. I don’t know what the final result will look like. All I can do is support, organize, water, tie, and prune. I have to find out what paths people use, then pave them to make finding things a little easier.

It’s not easy. It’s less engaging or measurable than programming, where you can track your progress by the defects you close and the features you build. But it creates a lot of value and helps scale up the effect of our group’s work. Why do I do it?

  • I’m building an example of how social computing can support a team.
  • I’m learning more about emergent information architecture.
  • I’m developing and documenting practices that other people might find useful.

How am I learning about this? Mostly through inspiration, practice, and reflection. I collect examples of well-organized wikis and I talk to other teams who use combinations of tools. I handle my team members’ requests and questions, and I think about how we can organize things better.

If you want your team to get more value out of social tools and knowledge sharing, you’ll probably need someone doing work like this.

Anyone else doing this? Want to share notes?

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