Recently I have been talking about how to have less messy, more transparent, open, diverse, and recorded (by default) conversations. In particular conversations that move across silos or involve multiple departments.
I will quickly review those two posts and add a third scenario of the usual spontaneous email conversations that span many levels of hierarchy and departments.
Top down communication and conversation - cut through hierarchy and across groups
The former was about a communication made to leads in different units who were then responsible to pass the communication down the chain. And you know what happens, people react to the communications and the same conversation is had in multiple spots.
The commenters have to wait for leads (if the leads choose to do so) to get their message up the chain and then back down.
Middle managers as communication reps or agents can often be a blockage; wouldn’t it be good to communicate straight with the source (this is more timely, engaging, empowering…and less frustrating for workers). The other point is that rather than each group missing out on clone discussions happening elsewhere, the inter-departmental conversation can happen in one space…yeah for collaboration, cooperation, and awareness…and of course all of this being documented by default.
My suggestion was a blog post, which is like writing an email, only on an online page. If some intended recipients don’t subscribe to the blog, then the author can send them a link to the post.
The recipients (the leads) simply pass on the link to their people, and anyone can post in the central spot for a discussion that cuts through and involves many levels of the hierarchy…a flat discussion perhaps.
What enterprise tools could learn from Facebook Notes (which is like blogging) is to be able to tag people, which is basically like putting their name in the To: field of an email. Sure you have subscribers, but if you really want to alert them then tag them, and also tag others that may not subscribe (which is kind of a tweak to the Facebook Note functionality)
I guess this can also be done in a microblogging network. People who follow you will get your communication, but so they don’t miss it in their stream you may want to @mention them, and also @mention some others that may not follow you.
- Shift Context - people like communicating by email as they simply visit their inbox and click new message. This is less convenient with blogging as you have to shift context ie. browse for the group space (CoP), then the blog…people are too busy and there is no time to do this (unless you can email a post…but most often people haven’t added a blog’s address in their email personal contacts)
- Awareness opportunity - non-subscribers probably won’t come across this post unless in a search result or random browsing
- Recipients - are email subscribers, and non-subscribers are sent a link (prone to inbox interruption and flooding, unless you can opt-out of the conversation thread)…don’t bring RSS into this as people just want one dashboard, and an RSS Reader is just not as productive as email (The plot thickens….microblogging is much more similar to both email and an RSS Reader)
- Future use - good in hindsight as all info about this topic is in one spot
- Shift Context - you don’t have to shift context at all (you don’t have to browse to the place where you want to post), instead like email it’s done from the one window
- Awareness opportunity - anyone in the network might see it
- Recipients - have been @mentioned or notified, but others can also be aware by following people (and choose to pay attention or ignore posts in their stream ie. no inbox interruption and flooding)
- Future use - but in hindsight where does this communication live (you could use #hashtag I guess)…or like all good facilitators you take the best bits from raw conversations and list them in a wiki (linking back to those conversations)…this is related to the "Practice" part of a Community of Practice
- Future use - blog about it so it lives in a solidified place
- Awareness opportunity - from an easy click on the blog post footer you can post a link to your blog post in the microblogging network
- Recipients - no inbox interruption and flooding (make sure commenting and subscribing is turned off on the blog, as these two things happen in the microblogging network. Microblogging posts about the blog post are displayed on the blog post via a plug-in. Perhaps you can comment via the blog post, but the box you are typing in is really a window into the microblogging platform).
An observation for this context could be…it’s like microblogging is the new blogging and blogging is the new document.
As it happens awareness rather than reporting progress back to base
The latter post was about using microblogging and #hashtags to do task work so that communications a task member has with a non-task member is visible to other task members as it happens…voiding the need for the task member to report progress back to base.
Spontaneous conversations across levels of hierarchy and departments
A similar communication, and all too familiar one is as follows:
…and so on.
These fictional scenario’s are hard to contrive. It would be more interesting to do some ethnographic work!!
I have drawn a map, but am not sure if it’s helpful.
As you can see the conversations get’s messy, and each unit is having closed conversations amongst themselves, and then at particular points emails cross units. Most of the time the frontline people (UnitA) who need to find some workaround to this issue are waiting for their lead to get back to them. But because they are out of the loop they start emailing around to others to find a solution.
Wouldn’t this all be easier if the question was posted in a forum and all comments could be centralised so everyone is in the loop.
Perhaps, but that means everyone needs to be a member of the forum (in order to have "write" access)…do they know which group space it’s in, are they subscribed to it.
Further to this; are people from UnitA interested in the techie stuff that people from UnitB and UnitC are talking about. Yes it’s good they can be aware, but the n-extra emails they don’t understand is not fun.
eg.refer to point 4. - When LeadB emails WorkerB; WorkerA, LeadA and LeadC are not cc: as it may be of a technical nature.
Maybe it’s best to leave things how they currently are, and wait for a communication that makes sense to UnitA. Perhaps, but it’s frustrating waiting and being out of the loop…collaborating in one spot is more engaging and clean, and is recorded for future use.
If only we could be aware as it happens (rather than waiting to be updated or asking people) without being interrupted or piling up our inbox with emails we don’t understand.
Another option is microblogging!
Let’s try it…
In this example…
WorkerA2 was aware of what’s happening much earlier.
Workers A listened mostly and didn’t have to find out on their own what’s going on or wait for a communication
WorkerD defied what would happen in email as they were ambiently aware and knew WorkerC2 was the person to fix it (this circumvented the need for UnitB to get involved, yet they could be ambiently aware of what was happening).
LeadA had minimal involvement and LeadB didn’t see the need to get involved, and people who didn’t even need to get involved at all were WorkersB, B2,C and LeadC
(all these people were aware as they follow people involved, and may have added the post to a Watchlist)
The difference here is: flat transparent conversations, timely (quicker turnaround), adapt to changes, visibility, everyone can be in the loop, not frustrating, no need to channel the solutions through the hierarchy…
The point is that these are spontaneous conversations that span many units and pre-defined group spaces just don’t cut it. Group spaces can have a hard time in the context of ad-hoc task work as the space needs to be prescriptive (created upfront in anticipation), and people need to become members. Which means you have to join before content can be communicated to you…waiting, waiting for you to join as I need to tell you something…email doesn’t have this issue as you simply push it to people.
Network interactions are more transient, and only exist as long as they need to (just like email conversations).
Another obstacle is you have to shift context to use them depending on the topic of your conversation, whereas email is the same familiar window.
Microblogging has the visibility of group spaces, but the ease of use of email.
Signal and Noise
Microblogging works really well on the web for discovery, awareness, research, communication, coordination…how does this transpose into the enterprise.
Yes, it’s good to be ambiently aware so we can be in the loop. When you are aware, you are more mindful and can act more appropriately knowing the bigger picture.
But how do I decipher the ambient information (good to know) from the essential information (must know)?
Must know - typical emails you currently get from your lead, co-workers and people in other teams you are working with on tasks
Good to know - ambient awareness (which by serendipity you may discover stuff you "must know" but don’t, as you weren’t in the email chain…both within and outside of your team
In my example above I mentioned a few times that even though a person followed another, they still @mentioned them so you get that email-like push feeling that you know it has been brought to their attention.
When you are working on a task and have commented on a post, you don’t need to be @mentioned a second time as you automatically get notified
So with the help of @mentions and notifications we can still be alerted like email
In addition what we need to be able to do is add a post to a Watchlist so you can go back to it and have a look at the history to refresh yourself
(just like going to an email that’s a couple of weeks old in your inbox and reading the email chain)
Maybe we could even flag items in our Watchlist so they standout, and even group them into a manageable folder or tag page
And fourthly we need to be able to follow #hashtags so we can be in the loop of new posts about the same task
That covers the posting and receiving, and also covers organising access to posts you have been involved in.
To this we can also add other filtering aspects like group spaces, list aggregations, search streams…
I wonder if anyone has experienced being able to have a controlled email-like experience (making sure people get your message, and that you can find and read past messages) in a microblogging platform, but at the same time be immersed in the ambient awareness of microblogging that we all know so well. The point is; can we make sure the essential stuff (must know) doesn’t get mixed and lost in the stream (amongst the good to know)?
I think with good design this is achievable with features like @mention, auto-notifications, watchlists, flagging, tagging and #hashtags…and I haven’t mentioned private messages.