Technology will allow us to become digital nomads

Technology pundit Mike Elgan says we’re evolving a new paradigm for the workplace as technology makes it easier for white collar workers to engage in location-independent employment. These “digital nomads” will be able to travel the world or go to locations where there are partners or customers for both personal reasons and on behalf of the company.

Found via Experientia (“Technology will allow us to become digital nomads“)

Yes, the online, networked generation, working in geographically dispersed teams must and will make broad use of collaboration tools for work purposes. And as these tools are becoming cheaper it helps too (now, I doubt whether we will really see low-cost web conferencing as soon as Mike Elgan says – yet it’s no problem, teamworking with fellow digital nomads is probably a bit easier than regular corporate collaborative work …)

Posted via web from frogpond’s posterous

Teams’ knowledge use and performance (under stress)

Just a short note – check out  Heidi Gardner’s Harvard Business School working paper Feeling the heat: The effects of performance pressure on teams’ knowledge use and performance (pdf)

Why do some teams fail to use their members’ knowledge effectively, even after they have correctly identified each other’s expertise? This paper identifies performance pressure as a critical barrier to effective knowledge utilization. Performance pressure creates threat rigidity effects in teams, meaning that they default to using the expertise of high-status members while becoming less effective at using team members with deep client knowledge. Using a multimethod field study across two professional service firms to refine and test the proposed model, I  lso find that only the use of client-specific expertise (not the expertise of high-status members) enhances client-rated performance. This paper thus reveals a paradox affecting teams’ use of members’ knowledge: the more important the project, the less effective the team. This paper contributes to the emerging literature linking team-level expertise utilization (instead of just recognition) with performance outcomes and also adds a novel, team-level perspective to the literature on inter-firm relations.

This is close to being an organizational collaboration pathology – huh? Now, it’s clear that having some slack time to build up social capital is essential (for building up trust and more – we’re talking of forming, norming, storming phases in teams) while in reality teams don’t always get that time (it’s a fast-paced multi-project world after all).

But putting on the heat on teams with an overblown performance focus seems to aggravate effects we know by the name of group think (and the related fall-back to well-established patterns when the going gets rough). And group norms kill creativity:

Unfortunately groups only rarely foment great ideas because people in them are powerfully shaped by group norms: the unwritten rules which describe how individuals in a group ‘are’ and how they ‘ought’ to behave. Norms influence what people believe is right and wrong just as surely as real laws, but with none of the permanence or transparency of written regulations…the unwritten rules of the group, therefore, determined what its members considered creative. In effect groups had redefined creativity as conformity.

Now what role may social software play in this situation? I agree that just mimicking Xing or LinkedIn in the hope of supporting and facilitation intra-company knowledge networks is bound to fail (and more, it’s following a flawed paradigm, social networks in companies should be understood as emergent properties of this complex social system we call organization). Designing the knowledge environments (and tools) for smart and action-oriented workers tasked with creative jobs is not easy (and very dependent of actual context too), letting the connections between interdependent teams simply emerge is a challenge. Just think of the various relations we entertain to people not in our actual company network (freelancers, alumni, competitors and complementors, partners, …), these are complex systems too:


Teaming up for innovation (and integration) …

Via Oliver Marks I found an article (free download at nGenera) who appeared in the November issue of Harvard Business Review (“Teaming Up to Crack Innovation and Enterprise Integration”) by Robert Morison of nGenera (yes, Don Tapscott is involved …), James Cash and Michael Earl of Oxford and Harvard respectively.

Picture to the left by Idris Motee who understands the need for interdisciplinary creative thinkers

Morison et al.s “idea in brief”:

Your company is continuously creating new generations of products, services, and business processes. These innovations require seamless collaboration across your firm’s different parts. But in most large corporations, innovation and integration are unnatural acts. Resistance stifles new ideas, and silos block cross-functional cooperation.

[…] explore how some companies are overcoming these boundaries […] establishing two new types of cross-organizational teams:

Distributed innovation groups (DIGs) – foster innovation throughout the company.
For example, they deploy intranet based forums and wikis to scout for promising ideas.

Enterprise integration groups (EIGs) – establish the architecture and management practices essential for business integration. For instance, they identify
integration opportunities, channel resources to them, and reconfigure Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to support ever-tighter crossbusiness collaboration.

To establish each of these groups, select a small number of talented people who combine broad business knowledge, technology expertise, and the social skills needed to build relationships both within and outside your company.

Yes, establishing tools and protocols is only the start. People and their skills (that includes leadership, being trustworthy and good at team building) are essential, especially when dealing with innovative tasks. And it’s more challenging when dealing with scattered (or even rivaling) business units.

So I liked the sound strategic thinking Oliver added – namely what separates the successful collaborative enterprise from those that aren’t – even more as he pointed out usage arenas like business intelligence, internal and external environmental scanning. These are memes worth expanding upon: one of the often overlooked benefits of Enterprise Social Software like wikis is that it both puts real time information to the front-lines of a corporation and collects the wisdom that is spread at the “edges” of the company:

[…] DIG’s could include, as examples, scouting for new ideas and untapped potential in current technologies, scanning the external environment for emerging technologies, Facilitating participation in idea forums, acting as an innovation expertise center, serving as an incubator for promising innovations and publicizing promising innovations and funds.


[…] why there are so many sparsely populated wikis and blogs slowly twisting in the wind in the corporate world – because they were set up as tentative trial balloons with no clear utility or guidelines for expected use. It’s trivial to set up a blog or a wiki from a technical perspective – you could do it in the time it took to read this article – setting up the internal use case to ’scout for promising ideas’, for example, takes a great deal more thought and planning.

The real challenge is in finding the key people […] these are the core resources that will drive innovation, adoption of associated methodologies and their enabling technologies and the successful execution of usage models.

People issues again, but it also reminded me of this (old) article by Rob Cross, Andrew Hargadon et al. (“Together We Innovate“) on the MIT Sloan Management website (and it isn’t about scouting for ideas inside the organization alone, right). It claims “How can companies come up with new ideas? By getting employees working with one another”,

[…] problems that stifle innovation. They share a couple of common themes: the failure to effectively leverage the expertise of employees (or their peers in partner organizations) and the failure to react effectively when new ideas do arise. But we’ve also found five steps companies can take to clear those barriers and start producing big ideas.

Cross, Hargadon et al. collect some network problems (and wrangle some ideas on how to solve them too):

1. No Communication […] the structure of the company keeps people apart […]
2. Bad Gatekeepers […]
3. Insularity […]

Check out the proposed “solution takes” – and see that these are about people and leadership in the beginning but include as well adaptivity & agility, connectivity and emergence (well, they don’t name it but it’s shinig all through, like when arguing that we need systems that allow for easy collaboration, in my book that means systems that can be personalized and tweaked to my very own needs).

Communication (and coordination?) in complex organizations

Stumbled upon this Harvard working knowledge paper by Adam Kleinbaum, Toby Stuart, and Michael Tushman via Mike Gotta who highlighted the opening quote:

“The social system is an organization, like the individual, that is bound together by a system of communication.” − Norbert Wiener (1948, p. 24)

The paper asks which groups are most likely to communicate with others in a large organization, regardless of social-and physical-boundaries and finds that category-spanning communication patterns are demonstrated primarily by women, mid- to high-level executives, and members of the executive management, sales and marketing functions.

It is available for free download as a pdf. Here’s the abstract:

This is a descriptive study of the structure of communications in a modern organization. We analyze a dataset with millions of electronic mail messages, calendar meetings and teleconferences for many thousands of employees of a single, multidivisional firm during a three-month period in calendar 2006. The basic question we explore asks, what is the role of observable (to us) boundaries between individuals in structuring communications inside the firm? We measure three general types of boundaries: organizational boundaries (strategic business unit and function memberships), spatial boundaries (office locations and inter-office distances), and social categories (gender, tenure within the firm). In dyad-level models of the probability that pairs of individuals communicate, we find very large effects of formal organization structure and spatial collocation on the rate of communication. Homophily effects based on sociodemographic categories are much weaker. In individual-level regressions of engagement in category-spanning communication patterns, we find that women, mid- to high-level executives, and members of the executive management, sales and marketing functions are most likely to participate in cross-group communications. In effect, these individuals bridge the lacunae between distant groups in the company’s social structure.

I like the approach, and the systematization of the three types of boundaries. Moreover the results reminded me of McAfee’s empty quarter thoughts, esp. if we understand that building bridges is one thing that may emerge with the adoption of social software in the enterprise. Yes, to achieve the boundaryless organization, putting social web elements to use is a good idea – especially to support lateral, cross-division, cross-function and cross-rank communication patterns. Yet, I guess that breaking up the silos all the way, i.e. to achieve and leverage “cross-division, cross-function and cross-rank” cooperation and collaboration, will be a lot harder. Connectbeam‘s Hutch Carpenter highlights the status quo and the real issues to deal with, i.e. integrating the user experience and adding layers that do more than mere enterprise search:

Adding social computing features to existing enterprise silos certainly helps, but fails to connect the larger organization. […]

We have not yet seen the emergence of a full-suite vendor that addresses the different needs of the market. Expect to see enterprises with multiple social computing apps for the foreseeable future.

Enterprise RSS Day of Action

James Dellow prepared a short slide deck for the upcoming Enterprise RSS Day of Action:

James also put up a presentation with a “wish list” for enterprise RSS:

These 10 things are inspired by the RSS services and functionality I’ve seen or experienced on the “consumer Web” that I want to have available inside the firewall too. Hopefully it also goes someway to explaining why Enterprise RSS is a different proposition from simply installing an RSS Reader on your work PC and RSS-ifying your intranet.

Yes, these are traits that are overlooked sometimes. Small wonder too – as enterprise RSS is only beginning to take up, some of these points are just emerging (like mobile access) or are seen primarily as job of the IT department (like security).

If the news is that important, it will find me

Bertrand Duperrin has an interesting post on informational competence, a key competence of knowledge workers. Reminded me of an article in the NYT I found via Marcel Weiß (btw, that’s the mechanism at work) holding that the “If the news is that important, it will find me”-attitude is gaining momentum:

[…] younger [people] tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on — with a social one.

Bertrands point of view adds to this a twist on intraorganizational provision of information, the you know “what’s needed, at the right point in time to the right people and so on”, arguing both that finding, extracting, evaluating, and making efficient use of information demands new competencies and that

[…] The problem is not the mass of infomation, it’s the amount of relevant information (what I need to know to do my job now) in relation to the global quantity.

[while] the information I receive through RSS feeds because I wanted to follow it, because it comes from well-targeted search agents, because it’s filtered by my network, is enormous in quantity but provides me with real benefits. It takes time for me to manage it ? It saves many people’s time in my company when I publish things and bookmarks on our intranet, or on the internet when I publish my bookmarks.

Jenny Ambrozek @ E20Summit

… on architecting participation (“Structural Holes and Space between the Tools”), some notes (Jenny, you know I’ve got clumsy fingers), her blog is here:

– people is the thing that doesn’t change – it depends on your structures, on the ways work is organized, the choreography, the inner workings etc.
– we need to think simultaneously about technologies *and* organizations, these are intertwined, no thing like Ceteris Paribus here (it’s ans AND BOTH world)
– Jenny had some concerns with the Davenport/McAfee debate, like that it omits discussion about value creation principles – again people and the structures they’re working in

Some remarks on Enterprise 2.0 SLATES, then she’s looking at Organizational Network Analysis, referring to Valdis Krebs, Rob Cross, Patti Anklam and Nancy White (crazy, I follow these people too on a regular basis). Mentions the Dunbar number, Metcalfe’s law etc.

SNA reveals informal networks, which thrive in parallel to the formal, visible structure. Yes, this allows for completely different perspectives on the social world inside organizations, on influence groups, leverage points and patterns of interaction.

Jenny offers some more insights on the importance of choosing metrics right, like when measuring only the activity of wiki edits doesn’t really provide insight – you have to look behind the history of these edits, the changing alliances in the argument, etc.

To wrap it up, this is messy, complex stuff, the most interesting things are happening in the spaces in between. The notion of network thinking is a demanding discipline, perhaps one reason that able organizational development consultants are rare in this space, yet enhancing or leveraging social capital in the enterprise is a hugely important task.

This has been one of my highlights for the conference, sadly I have been bugged in between by annoying internet connection problems, so this writeup is rather sparse. Anyway, I will exchange some words with Jenny later on, there’s a get-together scheduled at the end of the Enterprise 2.0 Summit, some beers are definitely doomed …