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Why mirroring departmental groups is not necessarily bad

By Angela Ashenden posted 05-15-2015 10:48


When you're first implementing a social collaboration platform in your organisation - and to be clear, by this I mean a tool of any sort that has some social features, for example to create a social intranet, an online community, or an enterprise social network - one of the biggest decisions is often how to go about getting the ball rolling from a content or collaborative group structure perspective. Given that your ultimate goal is typically to make your organisation more open, interactive and networked, my usual recommendation is to make it as open and undefined as possible from the start; to allow anyone to create a group about whatever they like, in order to encourage people to work out for themselves how the technology works and how they might find value in it. (In practice, this approach must usually be combined with a focused effort to identify key early use cases, to get the ball rolling.)


The challenge with this open-ended approach is that it can be a massive culture shock for some parts of the organisation, particularly if you are transitioning from a highly structured and content-managed intranet to this open format; key stakeholders from the old structure - for example content owners and Communications leaders - can be very resistant to their power and control being swept out from under their feet so dramatically. It may be that you are able to resist this push-back, and work with these individuals over time to convince them of the new approach and their own opportunities within it - and I would strongly encourage you to try to do this. However, sometimes it is worth considering a more gradual shift, and easing these stakeholders into the new world in a more gentle way by starting off creating groups that mirror the organisation's structure.


Now, I know full well that I'm going to get objections to that suggestion from many in the social collaboration arena, and I acknowledge that there are some major flaws or risks in going down this route. One key danger is that you lose the impact of the launch, and the opportunity to impress on people the need for a different way of communicating and collaborating. Those who are enthusiastic about the opportunities of a social collaboration platform may also lose confidence in your commitment to making the change. On the other hand, you have the potential to accelerate adoption among those content owners who committed so much of their time to the old system - people who have the potential to be great community managers in your new environment, provided you give them the right attention, training and encouragement.


Fundamentally, I don't think this is a black-or-white question; you certainly shouldn't create a group structure that corresponds to the organisation structure at the expense of allowing any other type of group to be created. If you continue to invest in your adoption strategy over time, you will find that people will learn for themselves which types of group are most useful and effective, and those trying to hold on to a top-down communication approach will find that no one's listening. To reinforce this, take advantage of analytics tools to demonstrate where the activity is happening; if no one is reading their content and yet there is activity elsewhere, they will more readily recognise the need to try an alternative approach. Allowing people to learn for themselves will be much more effective than trying to force the change upon them.


Also, while it's sensible to avoid too much heavy-handed group management in the early days, after 6-12 months you can revisit your various groups and assess which are active and valuable to their members, and which you could consider deleting. At this point, you might find that it’s the right time to abandon departmental groups. Or they might be successful. Who knows.


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