How context based social networks can bridge the gaps in organizational silos

Dolphins leap and have friendly interaction
Dolphins are very intelligent and highly social creatures. They bridge the gaps by teaching, cooperating and helping others. They frequently keep leaping over waves to save energy as there is less friction in the air. This helps them to explore their environment. Image credit: Pixabay

The National Geographic channel, was airing an hour-long program on what actually led to 9/11 or ‘The September 11 attacks’. Though it was aired several times in the past, I did happen to get a chance the other day to watch it until the end. Very interesting.

The program narrates a sequence of events that led to the attack. The prior intelligence that was available to the government agencies could have thwarted the attack (See Wikipedia).  However, it did not happen.

Why?

Clearly, there was no communication between the agencies. They agencies did not collaborate and they operated in silos. Even on the day of the attacks, there were gaps in communication and the right information was not with the right people.

Such gaps do exist in modern global corporations as well.

There is huge potential at the juncture of the business units for social collaboration to thrive and help. Nevertheless, is anyone taking notice?

With the constraints of history, cultural norms and work practices most of the established companies are not able to utilize the benefits of social networks in the workplace. The once siloed business units of these established companies are finding a way to harness the collaborative power of social networks that lie in the gaps.

Moreover, in the gap lies the panacea.

The authors, in their article  titled “Practical social networks“ published in the Harvard Business review, prescribe a very practical approach on how to derive value from social networks based on the nature of work performed within an organization. You can find the article here.

It could be a panacea for us to be more practical and move away from our constraints of cultural norms and history to look at collaborating with each other in new light. Though the solution is practical, it does offer a way out and move a step towards or navigate the murky waters for a more coordinated behavior for achieving our goals.

There are other benefits from an employee perspective, which cannot be based on the nature of work performed such as building social capital and the sense of belonging to be part of a community. Moreover, they cannot be ignored. Such aspects of social networking for employee interaction in workplaces are important to boost employee morale.

Still there are others, which are more critical from the organizational standpoint such as knowledge sharing within a context based on social interactions, collaborative problem solving, and the successive iteration of ideas leading to insight cannot be overlooked.

Having said this, the leadership team needs to think clearly on what goals they want to achieve through social networks, the pattern of connectivity and collaborative behavior that best suits their current nature of work.

There are work practice challenges, which pose many questions. The question of whether employees would be able to keep up with the relationship demands of their colleagues, lingers on. Keeping up with the emails, phone calls and meetings can take a toll on their productivity leave alone creating distractions and draining their own energy.

Based on the above challenges, the authors’ argument is that social networks need to be implemented where it is needed in the organization and that uniquely benefits the organization.

The give and take interaction

Based on a research from 60 organizations there are three types of social networks that can thrive. They are modeled based on the nature of work performed. It is understood clearly that even though the usage is more towards giving appropriate ‘responses’, they are actually ‘interactions’ which facilitate give and take.

Customized interaction

Here the value proposition is on delivering an innovative solution to a given problem. Such settings are usually found in new product development teams, investment banks, pharmaceutical industries, and management consulting firms. Every problem is unique.

The problems require expertise from different stakeholders to arrive at a customized solution. Participating users quickly raise a problem and facilitators or organizers of the social network coordinate to get relevant expertise for a customized response.

Modular interaction

Here the value proposition is on delivering an appropriate response by aggregating knowledge and expertise from other sources. Here the solution to the problem is known. However, the detailing, the steps, and the combinations to derive the solution are not known. Such settings are usually found during surgical procedures. The response offered is often unique and is usually a combined effort from modular or specialized expertise.

Routine interaction

Here the value proposition is in delivering an efficient and a consistent response. Such settings are usually found in call center and routine transactional environments. Problems are established. Solutions are also established. It is only the case of knowledge required for a quick and consistent response to the queried problems.

Finally,

For the above social networks to thrive and their value propositions to succeed, we need to understand, assess, and identify the contexts around which such social networks can be set up.

It is  not enough  to just introduce a social collaboration platform or a social network and throw some incentives  and ask all the employees to participate.  The social network so introduced needs to improve the overall quality of work by aligning work practices, HR practices, business challenges, and technology.

In other words, change in leadership behavior, fostering a collaborative culture and employee friendly policies will see tremendous improvement in the way the new patterns of collaboration will emerge through the introduction of a social network within an organization.

Cheers.

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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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