Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Collaboration Groups: Where It All Happens

The place where work generally gets done in a social collaboration environment is in a group. Groups are places where you invite specific participants, collect content, hold discussions, get focused on a particular task or topic.

There are many kinds of groups, depending on the collboration environment. Groups can be open, moderated, or private; groups can also be internal-only (only network members can participate), or they may be made accessible to invited guests. The image below shows the options available when you create a group within Jive:

What Kinds of Groups Should be Created?

An article appeared last fall, titled Collaboration – If it Were That Easy We Would all Do It – Well. The article included a useful segmentation of collaboration models, ranging from informal to formal. The five collaboration types referenced in the article are listed below, and in a way they correspond to the kinds of groups you could create in your social collaboration environment.

  1. Communities of Practice/Interest are social platforms that allow members of a community to share ideas and discussion. They are focused on a particular issue or topic, and provide interpersonal knowledge exchange.
  2. Content collaboration is basically a library. Participants post relevant content, and thus collaboratively build the library over time. This can also include the collaborative authoring of new content.
  3. Process collaboration brings the community together through a business process. Individuals collaborate based on tasks in a coordinated series of orchestrated tasks. The goal is typically process efficiency and control, including identification of the right team member at the right time.
  4. Project collaboration has a defined purpose, a start and end date and clearly defined parameters.
  5. Goal-based collaboration involve projects that have well defined specifically articulated outcomes or questions to be answered. The end date is basically determined by the achievement of the goal.

Of course, any of these forms of collaboration are valid and useful to drive better and more effective interaction between colleagues. However, the more structured kinds of collaboration – process and project collaboration in particular – may require more control, structure and automation than is easily achieved in the initial stages of your efforts. Hence, these may not be the communities you want to start with when building your collaborative environment.

The best opportunity is to coordinate learning and insights across by setting up shared environments in less structured collaboration types referenced above, such as Communities of Practice/Interest, Content collaboration or shared libraries, and Project collaboration groups.

Getting Things Done

Of course, many organizations have a constant and immediate need to support teams of collaborators working on projects. Nothing new here, obvisouly, but when the teams are distributed, and sometimes comprised of members not all within the organization, the process becomes a little more taxing. Email systems groan under the weight of supporting a dynamic, highly distributed team. Actually, email doesn’t groan at all – the team members do the groaning, since email is such a poor environment for supporting collaboration.

More on the structure and nature of distributed teams using a social collaboration platform:

Working together on a project in a team may be the most primary form of collaboration, and an obvious place to kick off your social collaboration needs.

Building Best Practices

Beyond project workspaces, organizations can derive significant value from establishing communities of practice, or communities of interest. These are somewhat puffed up phrases that simply mean groups of like-minded professionals that benefit by having an environment to share ideas and discussions. These groups are focused on a particular issue or topic, and provide interpersonal knowledge exchange. Practice areas may be verticals (e.g. financial services) or skill-based (e.g. graphic design) or some other dimension.

As with distributed project teams, communities of practice are particularly useful in multiple location environments.

Imagine, for example, you set up a group for all business development people working on a particular sector – say media and entertainment. In that group, you would have the practitioners share their experience, ask questions, post presentations and other artifacts that worked well in specific cases. Essentially, you’re looking to help build best practices, and this becomes not only the repository for the content, but an environment to ask questions and evolve the state of the art.

Community DNA

The sweet spot for early stage social collaboration is the first item: communities of interest or communities of practice. Stan Garfield of Deloitte, in an online presentation called “Communities Manifesto“, presents a more detailed view of communities of practice. His opening slide offers these helpful descriptions (somewhat abridged):

Read the entire manifesto for more really useful information about what constitutes and motivates a community, but this gives a sense for the zen of a community. Communities of practice/interest are an obvious place to start when setting up your sharing environments.

Supervision Highly Recommended
One final note, for any kind of collaboration group. When possible, identify one or more facilitators / leaders to keep stirring the pot. This is the person who is accountable for ensuring that value accrues within the group and that the contributions remain relevant. As the de facto Community Manager, their role may also be in congratulating / recognizing people for their contributions (though this role can be filled by others).
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Written by tstaley

September 29, 2012 at 4:03 am

Posted in Collaboration

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