Monday, February 23, 2009

Do people really want you to talk to people?

Catching up on my feed reader and Twitter feed after a weekend of hockey and WoW. Number 9 on Karyn's Ten Things Learning Designers Forget jumped out at me:
People may prefer to talk to people. If possible, there should be a way for them to do so. A list of acknowledged experts in each field. A discussion forum. User profiles. That sort of thing.

Struck me that this may be the trickiest thing to implement.

First: Does the "expert" actually WANT to talk to the newbie? They may not want to be bombarded by calls / e-mails by people asking "stupid questions". Experts have their jobs to do too. Is there a way to make availability rewarding for the expert? Maybe this concern is a result of my own past experience rather than the reality for most folks.....

Second: Is there an organizational structure that encourages talk between managers rather than between front-line workers? OK - for me to talk to Joe in accounting, I need to talk to my manager, who then talks to his manager to see if Joe has time to talk to me. Depending on how dysfunctional structured the organization is, you may be expected to go up and down multiple layers of the org tree before getting Joe's answer (while being translated like a game of telephone). Direct contact will be punished. (Though as I have amply documented here, I have often been of the "Do first, apologize later" school of getting things done).

Third: The knee-jerk organizational reaction to most things having to do with discussion boards, wikis, etc - who's going to make sure that the information is "right"?

In my own attempts to create a better support system for our enterprise application, I'm finding that the idea of a resource area (with links, tutorials, documentation etc) is being much better received than the idea of a super-user community. A resource where people can talk across departments and share solutions.

I haven't quite figured out why there is so much quiet resistance to the notion of a user network. Fear of more meetings? A need to have someone "responsible" for the group? Fear of sharing knowledge, therefore making yourself less valuable? Lack of management control / protection?

I know this will be a cultural change. A more significant one than I had initially expected. How does one go about creating / encouraging / supporting an organization-wide user community?


Unknown said...

SharePoint is a good software for this sort of thing. We used it at a prior employer and it was a user community. Of course, the users were programmers and we'd make different forum topics about a coding problem we ran across rather than make decisions on how the company runs or anything of that nature.

I would think if their is opposition to this kind of thing it would be because of one or more of the following:

1. Managers have less use since they are no longer a bottleneck in the flows of communication. Managers fear that everyone will learn they are useless.

2. Employees will now have their discussions publicized more, so the more useless ones will either not use the system, or be found to be useless.

3. "Who watches the Watchmen?" mentality. What I mean is that someone will be afraid this community will start making decisions and will become a crutch. You already knew that, but in reality this should be avoided by simply saying that it is nothing official, just a tool for quick communication and impromptu meetings (that could last for days since its a forum and not a real-time chat).

I keep referencing the forum capabilities of SharePoint, but it also has scheduling, contact lists, and file management potential as well. Of course, there's the configuring of it that has to be done first...and the limitless customization that can be coded on top of it.

The upsycho said...

In response to your first question, you have got to make sure you choose experts who have the right mentality. It should also become part of their KPIs. This is the bit that's tricky to implement, because KPIs tend to be very results focused, rather than team focused. Sadly.

And you are absolutely right - many organisational structures don't foster this kind of peer-to-peer communication. I am unrepentant, however. In such cases, the fault lies with the organisational structure. Top-down is soo last century ;o)