Social Learning, Collaboration, and Team Identity

March 4, 2010

Harold Jarche recently offered a framework for social learning in the enterprise in which he draws from a range of colleagues (Jay Cross, Jane Hart, George Siemens, Charles Jennings, and Jon Husband, all members of the Internet Time Alliance) to outline how the concept of social learning relates to the large-scale changes facing organizations as they struggle to manage how people share and use knowledge.

Harold’s overall framework comes down to the following insight,

Individual learning in organizations is basically irrelevant because work is almost never done by one person. All organizational value is created by teams and networks. Furthermore, learning may be generated in teams but even this type of knowledge comes and goes. Learning really spreads through social networks. Social networks are the primary conduit for effective organizational performance…Social learning is how groups work and share knowledge to become better practitioners. Organizations should focus on enabling practitioners to produce results by supporting learning through social networks.

Indeed, Jay Cross suggests that the whole discussion needs framing in terms of collaboration, and I tend to agree. Yet, saying social learning occurs largely through collaboration means delving into the subtleties of how social networks relate to the organizing work of project teams as well as to their performance. After all, much of the work done in Enterprises involves multidisciplinary teams, often spread across departments, operating units, and locations.

One of my earlier posts posed the question Who’s on Your Team? to highlight the importance of social networking to establishing team identity and enhancing knowledge sharing across distributed, multidisciplinary teams. Its focus was on the importance of social software applications in the Enterprise to the ability of distributed project team members to recognize who is on their team at any point in time, and who isn’t. Organizational analysts refer to the challenge of establishing team identity as a boundary definition problem for teams, when members are spread across large distances whether geographic or cultural in nature.

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SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networking

March 18, 2009
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Social Software Stack

The title for this post is drawn from a recent assessment of SharePoint 2007 offered on Thomas Vander Wal’s bog, Personal InfoCloud. Thomas’ post, as always, offers a unique point of view on what Enterprise 2.0 consists and, specifically, how SharePoint measures up. He isn’t offering his own formal assessment as much as reporting the stories clients and potential clients shared with him over the past couple of years. The social software stack, in particular the difference between collective understanding and collaborative understanding, frames Vander Wal’s perspective.

Given SharePoint’s widespread use, and the growing interest in applying social media applications to collaboration challenges in organizations, Thomas’ discussion deserves wider attention. His overall impression is well summarized in the following point.

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside [the] enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organizations have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.

This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.

In other words, SharePoint works well for situations in which defined groups need to reach a collaborative understanding of project requirements, their role in achieving those objectives, and what success means for the project. It works less well in providing resources allowing people across the enterprise, and across teams or departments, to discover connections with others and develop social relationships for networking together in ways that meet both personal and organizational challenges.

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Finding the Social Core of Facebook Friends: Revisiting the Dunbar Number

March 2, 2009

friends1A recent Economist article discusses the relevance of Dunbar’s Number to friending in Facebook, and its relation to the size of social networks, especially networks of close friends. The article addresses a similar issue outlined in an earlier post here on the influence of influentials on Twitter, which focused on findings of a recent study by members of the  Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories .

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Twitter Friends and the Influence of Influentials in Word of Mouth Marketing

January 16, 2009
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Social Networks that Matter

Without going into links to specific posts, I’ve noticed a trend among many blogs I try to keep up with over the past couple of years. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen prominent bloggers post publicly about having to pare down the list of RSS feeds they read, or tweets they respond to. Since Peter Kim’s blog is the most recent instance of the trend I’ll use one of his recent posts as an example of what I mean. Peter noted that he increasingly hears an echo chamber across social media blogs in which the same content, case studies, anecdotes, etc. gets repeatedly posted and commented on. More cynical observers might contend that the complaints about information overload from influentials is a little like strutting in front of a crowd. Nevertheless, it is difficult to dispute the point that attention is a scarce resource on the Web. So is engagement.

Ross Mayfield recently pointed to a study published by researchers at the Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories that addresses the point succinctly by pointing to constraints on friendship in directed social networks such as Twitter. A directed social network is characterized by an absence of explicit reciprocity constraints, fifty people can follow one person without that person necessarily following any of them. First Monday’s most recent issue includes an article, Social Networks that Matter: Twitter under a Microscope, that reports on a study of Twitter users by Bernardo A. Huberman, Daniel M. Romero, and Fang Wu of HP Laboratories.

The authors analyzed data from 309,740 people using Twitter. They compared the network of interactions people actually engage in while using social computing technologies such as Twitter to the network of connections with whom one shares a social relationship. Networks of actual interaction are considered networks that matter by the authors.

By networks that matter we mean those networks that are made out of the pattern of interactions that people have with their friends or acquaintances, rather than constructed from a list of all the contacts they may decide to declare.

In other words, the research focused on reciprocity as well as connection in studying the social network of Twitter. 
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Collaborating with Twitter: More than social networking?

March 30, 2008

I’ve started using Twitter lately. Not because I just learned about it. I’ve known about it for some time, but didn’t need the added social networking juice it provides. For those of you who don’t know about Twitter though, you can see a good overview in Lee Lefever’s “Twitter in Plain English” (Thanks to SoulSoup2.0 for pointing out the video.)

Nancy White’s Twitter Collaboration Stories blog offers a range of possibilities for Twitter collaboration. However, the development of WordPress’s Prologue makes it increasingly possible that corporate enterprises can implement twitterlike collaboration behind the firewall. The implications for project management and performance improvement through dynamic eLearning are very promising.

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