Starting a New Collaborative Space for Small Groups

I fielded a question last week about what factors are the most important in launching a wiki to support a small working group, such as a committee, task force or team. I’ve decided to address it a bit more broadly by looking those factors for online collaboration in general.

In my experience designing and facilitating collaborative spaces online for large and small association, volunteer groups, alumni and others, you need the following to maximize successful outcomes:

  • Have a very clear and focused goal for using the space that all participants understand and support. The narrower the better;
  • Provide ample handholding and individual training for those who need it;
  • Leadership of the group MUST be avid champions for using the technology;
  • Start with one group that is excited to use the tool as a pilot test and early exemplars. Their success will draw others to adopt the tool;
  • Make sure the technology you use is very user friendly and provides the functionality your group will need to achieve their desired outcomes. Bad tech is the kiss of death.

Tools like a wiki can be greatly valuable for group collaboration but people who are new to it must have the value for THEM explained and heavily emphasized. A really strong WIIFM value proposition will get late adopters over the hump.

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No One Cares About Your Intranet

James Robertson points to a post decrying the lack of attention that corporate intranets receive nowadays in a challenging economy.

Expecting executives to fund the intranet is like expecting them to fund fax machines: better make a good case leading with the value of the outcomes an intranet can achieve rather than the depth of your features or total document count or the purity of your taxonomy.

In fact, I’d stop calling your group an intranet team immediately. Rebrand yourself as the rapid solutions team, working tirelessly to help profit centers make more profit and cost centers to cost less.

Improving the capacity to act.

I recently conducted a workshop for a clienton the topic of knowledge management. As I prepared for the event, I rediscovered a great definition of knowledge from Karl Erik Sveiby:

Knowledge is a capacity to act.

I find this to be a highly useful definition of knowledge because it helps to focus any knowledge-related endeavor on a specific outcome.

For example, does your intranet improve the ability of staff to act? This one question will lead to a cascading inquiry of the actions employees need to take in support of their goals, how they can best take them, and how your intranet can then facilitate that action taking process.

It boils away all the impurities of knowledge management as a field and highlights that which it is supposed to create in the business context: the improved capacity to take action.