Monday, October 08, 2012

Social - What Do We Mean?

Here is the first post in the series taking a look at ‘social’ or ‘connected’ opportunities in organizational life. This first post defines some terms as they apply to the overall theme in order to set the stage going forward. I am especially interested in any thoughts you have on the way these terms are defined here and whether or not it resonates with your ideas about what opportunities the use of social media tools offer us in organizational or community settings.

Let’s start with a brief recap of Systems Thinking which is an excellent framework for thoughts about networks, being connected, how the introduction of a social tool may affect parts of an organization (or the people within) unintentionally or in a different way than first imagined.

Systems Thinking (Systemic Application)

The following excerpt(s) from O’Connor and McDermott (1997) “The Art of Systems Thinking: Essential Skills For Creativity and Problem Solving, is important in ones understanding of organizational culture in the Digital Era.

“Systems thinking is seeing beyond what appear to be isolated and independent incidents to deeper patterns. So you recognize connections between events and are therefore better able to understand and influence them.” (Introduction)

“Interconnecting parts functioning as a whole. Changed if you take away or add more pieces. Its behaviour depends on the total structure. Change the structure and the behaviour changes. (p.3)

“The relationship between the different parts of the system determines how it works, so each part, however small, can affect the behaviour of the whole.
All parts of a system are interdependent, they all interact. How they relate to each other gives them the power to affect the whole system. This suggests an interesting rule for influencing systems, particularly groups: the more connections you have, the more possible influence. Networking brings influence. Indeed, research suggests that successful managers spend four times as much time networking as their less successful colleagues.” (p. 15)

Many organizations are set up into departments with some crossover among departments that rely on one another to complete specific tasks. Such departments are generally organized to be efficient by reducing ‘noise’ – not having distractions that are not directly related to the day-to-day activities of the specific responsibilities of the department. However, this can also create Silos in organizations with strong Command/Control features that also have limited communication channels.

Silos can thus reduce efficiencies; further contribute to ineffective communication; does not take into sufficient account how actions (or inactions) affect other parts of the system. This can waste time and resources as the people in one department (silo) will realize more effort to locate expertise or support that is not within their immediate ‘network’. The duplication of effort that also occurs in this set up can create significant frustration over time and leave both employees and customers with a sense that it is difficult to do business in that organization. This leads to a negative impact on collaboration, communication, and cooperation. All of which can lead to a negative effect on morale, engagement and motivation.

Deciding what and how to make changes to an organization that may be feeling those effects of silos depends on what makes sense for the specific business, industry and size of the organization. The following thoughts on Integration, Cross-Functional teams and the concept of “Social” provides some clues to how one may reduce any such concerns.

Wikipedia defines Vertical integration as follows, “combines different products or services under one ‘owner’ to satisfy a common need. Horizontal integration-consolidates like companies to monopolize an industry. And Integration as: “The mixing of people or groups previously segregated. An act or instance of combining into an integral whole. “

Cross-Functional: completing a goal or project using members from teams with different purposes and skills. How effective this is in an organization depends on the culture and communication style predominant in the organization.

Business/Organizational context Also referred to as “Enterprise” by some software/technology retailers. This is a combination of:

(1) Culture- people focused
(2) Organizational Approach- experience driven
(3) Customer Involvement -co-creation and/or engagement
(4) Social technology –social processes that use technology to enhance communication, learning/development/knowledge management and collaboration.

There is some discussion regarding the use of the word ‘social’ as being contrary to business as a productive and efficient orientation and this has given rise to alternate terms being used that encompass the use and effect of social tools; you will see words in various forms such as connected and collaborative that attempt to depict the true value and impact of social tools in organizations.

The next four posts in this series will assume the above is intended as descriptive of the thoughts regarding the opportunities and affect of social tools in organizations. While looking at 'social' from an organizational change perspective over the past five years the gradual shift in the words and terms used has been continuous. In some part, because of the unease with which some business executives view 'social' in a workplace setting, but primarily as the tools and applications have evolved to provide greater opportunities to a wider audience new terminology is needed to be appropriately descriptive.

What do you think? Do you find the many different uses of common words confusing, overwhelming or helpful?

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