Notes in the Margin

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

How To Launch Successful Collaborative Intranet Groups

GeeseFor a social and collaborative Intranet, bootstrapping the newfound sharing behavior may be challenging. Here are some ideas on how to focus and orient groups getting started on a connected internal platform.

Contrary to the popular expression from Field of Dreams, simply building an online capability for your group’s collaboration does not by any means guarantee that your teammates will come. There are a few keys to attend to when planning your collaboration site and some up-front planning along these lines will go a long way to making the online facility a success for your team.

This post goes through the keys to success in creating and managing a social collaboration community. But because this is a collaborative environment, please weigh in with insights from your experience. You can add comments at the bottom of this entry, or add your feedback to the discussion forum.

The keys to collaborative Intranet success include the following:

  • Clarity of Purpose
  • Setting Expectations
  • Familiar and Useful Content
  • Easy Navigation
  • Kicking Off
  • Encouraging Usage / Celebrating Success

1. Clarity of Purpose

You can expect that all your prospective online cohorts are already busy, so much so that each will have little or no extra time for a gratuitous online experiment. The most important first message to deliver to prospective participants is that, although this is a pilot project, you expect significant value from the ability to share files and other content, engage in online discussions, coordinate activities and distribute information.

Yes, a collaborative Intranet is intended to help the culture and level of engagement within a company. But your colleagues should know that you expect to achieve significant value directly from participation in the online environment. These benefits can include some of the following:

  • Knowledge sharing. By participating in the online environment, your group’s knowledge, decisions, questions and plans will all accrue in one central, shared location. This represents not only time saving, as people will more easily be able to find key content, but it also means a clearer and more widely shared understanding of the group’s mission.
  • Strengthened Relationships. Especially for teams that are spread across multiple locations, it’s difficult to develop a sense of team identity. It’s similarly difficult to get to know the individuals on your team with sparse real-time interactions and ill-focused email threads. An online environment enables teammates to engage more deeply, and asynchronously, than other methods.
  • Improved efficiency. Meetings and email have come to define how collaboration occurs within organizations. Yet these are increasingly exposed as inefficient ways to work: meetings often wade through information that could have been shared online; emails push content out to individual Inboxes through successive (often endless) messages. An online sharing environment won’t replace meetings or email but, by providing a place to capture background content and discussions, it will make meetings more productive, and email easier to digest.
  • New Idea Generation. By collecting content in a single, well-organized environment, your Intranet will enable team members to better engage with the content and purpose of the group’s activities, and will likely stir new ideas, discussions and directions. This might currently happen, by luck, in the context of a meeting or a long email thread, but in the shared Intranet environment idea generation and sharing is not constrained by fleeting moments or messages that difficult to parse.

Your declared purpose can be declared during a kick-off event for the space (more on this below), but it’s also useful to add it prominently to your collaboration environment as a reference document.

2. Setting Expectations, Gaining Commitment

Even if your teammates have seen and understand the value inherent in a collaborative environment, they are likely to remain rooted in their old behavior patterns. Sharing information online and engaging in the team space is new behavior for most people. Expectations are generally pretty clear when it comes to meetings and email. Our calendars and Inboxes fill up with content and commitments, and we respond accordingly.

But the online collaboration environment is a new destination, not accessible through Outlook or other usual business applications or locations. Most collaboration environments will notify participants of new content via email, but even this remains a passive, reactive mode of engaging in your group’s interactions.

Start by asking your teammates to visit the shared workspace at least once a day. Encourage them to add information that might be useful to the group. This could be something as mundane as a Facebook-like update on their state of mind that day. This simple update goes a long way to building relationships and humanizing the work environment.

Once your group is in full swing, you may still need to encourage participation, but that will be covered below in the “Encouraging Usage” section. To start, just get your colleagues to commit to a daily check-in.

3. Familiar and Useful Content

The value of a collaborative environment comes from the content shared. A good way to start a community is to collect documents, images, reports, etc. that have been shared among the team – often in the form of email attachments or links to web pages. A useful way to prime the content for your team start is to take a little time and mine the emails sent to your group for attachments and references you can collect and add to the shared space.

Some of this content may be fixed and final, and can be added simply as reference material. Other content might be the potential subject of additional commentary or discussion. When you add this content to your site, consider what kind of reactions it might generate: if people will want to comment, make sure you enable and encourage comments. If the content would lead to discussion, you might want to add it as the lead topic in a discussion forum.

Most importantly, just make sure there is content on the site before people join. It’s the first impression thing: you want newcomers to see potential value right from the beginning. When starting a new group, here are some typical things you might want to add before people arrive:

  • A welcome notice (probably as a blog), setting the context for work on the space. This would include things like your hope that everyone will participate, either by adding original content, or by commenting on other participant’s content.
  • Add one or more discussion forums that are pre-populated with issues, ideas or questions with which the group is engaged. This would provide an easy way for new members to add their two cents and see some value.
  • Create a simple calendar of group events, milestones, deliverables, etc.
  • As mentioned above, if you have documents, images or other files that the group has shared, upload them to the shared space.

4. Easy Navigation

Nothing discourages users more than frustration of a web environment that isn’t easily comprehensible. Your users may buy into the purpose, and they make a commitment to participate regularly, but if they are thwarted in their attempts to understand the environment, those best-laid plans will be set aside.

As the Community Manager for your team, take some time regularly to make sure that the site remains comprehensible and hospitable. You may have some control over the layout if important content isn’t being displayed effectively. And you may want to re-post items that have dropped too low in a the sequential display, but remain important.

A key to making a site accessible and comprehensible is the use of hyperlinks. Some environments allow your team to create saved bookmarks, which acts as an informal table of contents. Also, encourage your participants to use hyperlinks in the content they create. For example, in the midst of a forum discussion, someone might refer back to a document or other information item stored on the site. If so, encourage this person to add a hyperlink to the document – it only takes a minute, but the connectivity is what helps build the corpus of knowledge for the group.

5. Kicking off

Once you have primed the site with content, and you have readied a welcome document and are ready to discuss expectations for your team’s use of its shared environment, it’s time to formally kick off the platform. Ideally, your users should see the site for the first time when you can introduce and guide them through it. If users go to the site before all of the foregoing – purpose, expectations and content especially – they will easily get discouraged and leave unimpressed.

A kick-off doesn’t have to be a huge affair – it can be done as part of a regular team conference call, for example, and could even be done in 20 – 30 minutes. The key again is that you do the work up front, so their first impression is positive and they will know how to engage with the site.

6. Encouraging Usage, Celebrating Success

Finally, once the site is up and running and your teammates have been introduced, it’s likely that the community will need ongoing encouragement. Whenever possible, you can politely ask a colleague whether the excellent document they have just shared with you via email has also been uploaded to the shared environment.

Or, when you find yourself in the midst of a long and intractable email or thread, move the discussion to an online forum and notify the group of its new home.

When people add great content to the site, or when you observe a meaty discussion happening online, call it out! This can be done by email, as contradictory as that sounds, in meetings or on the site itself. When and if appropriate, share the success outside your group and show off!

This will be an ongoing process as your teammates get acclimated to sharing online. However, if you believe the initial purpose statement, you and your team will get great results from your efforts.


Written by tstaley

January 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Posted in Social Business

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