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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Shaping Social Business Ecosystems as Learnscapes

August 18, 2009

shapeThe emergence of social media provides people inside and outside organizations with a way to actively speak about, speak to, and engage the product and service offerings of enterprises. Currently, 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content and 34% of bloggers post opinions about products & brands. Enterprises, on the other hand, listen to, engage, and act on insights gained from social media.

A recent study of social media engagement by Ben Elowitz and Charlene Li covered the 100 largest brands and, among other conclusions, noted that,

One recurring theme throughout these case studies is that engagement cannot remain the sole province of a few social media experts, but instead must be embraced by the entire organization.

Channels, policies, processes, touch points and transactions are increasingly viewed as parts of the social experience organizations use to encourage employees in collaboration (also known as — Enterprise 2.0), and engage customers in conversation (also known as — social media) for the purposes of innovation and transformation of the business. The common goal of the ongoing discussion involves transforming business practices to incorporate social relationships into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders.

Integrating engagement into enterprises is crucial to strategic efforts to use social software throughout an ecosystem, inside and outside the formal organizational hierarchy, as social business design. My contention is that such integration is most likely to succeed with a focused approach to informal learning. In my last post, Scalable Learning and Learnscapes in Social Business Design, I offered the following point.

The concept of learnscape is a useful framework for thinking about the strategic challenge to the range of learning activities occurring as companies attempt to create feedback loops between their brand experience and the functional areas of their enterprise, especially in regard to the multidisciplinary collaboration needed to make these efforts successful.

The concept of a learnscape, initially outlined by Jay Cross, focuses our attention on designing ecosystems to heighten the innovation and performance of people. I lay out some thoughts about learnscapes and shaping ecosystems below, using key concepts from the Dachis Group’s framework, initially discussed in an earlier post on HP’s WaterCooler project. I don’t claim these insights provide proven techniques for shaping enterprise ecosystems. But, I do think they point in a useful direction for those thinking about Enterprise 2.0 and social media strategy to keep in mind. Read the rest of this entry »


futuremelbourne: Wikis in City Planning

July 16, 2008

Howard Rheingold provides an interesting video podcast of an interview with Mark Elliott regarding the use of wikis in city planning, particularly in Melbourne. The Melbourne wiki uses the tagline, “the city plan that anyone can edit.” Mark indicates there were 500 registered users and 7,000 visitors to futuremelbourne.

I’m not convinced by Mark’s concept of stigmergy, analogizing patterns of insect behavior — specifically ants — to the activity of participants in a wiki. However, his overall point about the benefits of using wikis for collaboration between public officials and the community in civic projects, such as the New Zealand police act wiki, is persuasive.

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Demographics, Innovation, and Enterprise 2.0

June 30, 2008

As a member of the boomer generation, a recent post by Stewart Mader on the use of Enterprise 2.0 at Wachovia  caught my attention because it relates to a range of ongoing discussions on the relationship of age and innovative uses of technology in supporting collaboration.

Stewart points approvingly to a recent InformationWeek article on Wachovia’s use of wikis, blogs, and social networking to develop mutual mentoring between younger workers and senior staffers. Wachovia is assigning younger staffers to mentor senior staffers about the benefits of using collaborative networks. However, Stewart goes on to qualify the point of such mentoring with the following insight:

We often talk about how the millennial generation has an advanced grasp of these social and collaborative tools, but just half of the story in my opinion. I see enterprise 2.0 tools not as the exclusive domain of youth, but as a better connector for multiple generations, so that wisdom, tacit knowledge, and business know-how from the experienced can be shared with younger workers.

The point is bolstered by recent research, though with a couple of crucial caveats. Read the rest of this entry »


Onboarding, Social Capital, and Wikis

April 16, 2008

All organizations face a similar challenge when new employees come onboard. The new employee needs to learn the ins and outs of the organization. HR typically provides them an orientation packet and a point of contact for information. Their team, or department, management gives them an overview of their job and, if they are lucky, walks them around to introduce them to their co-workers and provides any virtual introductions, i.e. email announcements, needed to other members of the organization. However, providing new employees with access to the information needed to understand how to do their work is always a daunting challenge. Referring them to policies and procedures, whether manuals or online, remains the most common first step. Sometimes the new employee even receives on-the-job-training for a few days.

Making the first few days of a new employee’s orientation smoother and making the curve of their time to performance steeper are challenges requiring ongoing innovation in the management of human capital, but also social capital. Read the rest of this entry »