[This post originally written for the Ledface Blog]
Enterprise Collaboration Tools can improve the productivity of organizations by reducing the friction in the flow of information. This post argues that the application of Crowdsourcing techniques in that context is the next step in blending the best of traditional functional segmentation with the benefits of open collaboration.
The Organizational Intelligence Problem
Most companies today are structured as a hierarchy segmented in business units, then in specialized functional areas (sales, operations, engineering, marketing etc), then into recursively smaller groups responsible for a portion of the big problem. For every single issue that emerges, there is an unequivocal “expert” in the organization, an individual who is accountable and (supposedly) knowledgeable to solve it.
Here are two common challenges:
- Analysis imperfection. Real-life problems often cannot be broken perfectly along designed functional lines. They require multiple people to work together and inter-dependently to solve them, which goes against the personal accountability paradigm.
- Expert fallibility. While it is generally good to have a person assigned as the primary responsible for issues in a specific area, nobody can be expected to know everything, even if it is in a very narrow domain of knowledge.
Social Collaboration Tools and their limitations
Enterprise social collaboration tools employ some of the same mechanisms brought to us by consumer social network platforms and have been successfully introduced in large commercial enterprises to bring a collaboration overlay to current organization.
Beyond the file sharing systems of the past, they let interaction happen directly, in real-time, across functional lines. Information flows with less friction and interactions are more spontaneous.
But they also create two new potential problems:
- Low signal/noise ratio – In an extreme structured environment, you are afraid people don’t have the information they need to do the best for the organization. In a totally social environment, you worry about people being overwhelmed with too much irrelevant data.
- Ego – If my value to the organization is determined exclusively by my expertise on a narrow subject, I might be reluctant to seek help from non-experts who might have the answer to a specific problem. We need to create environments where that informal collaboration can happen without threatening the position of the domain expert.
Crowdsourcing: The Next Step in Enterprise Collaboration
Trying to use social communication tools to solve the entire problem of cross-functional collaboration is akin to trying to se email as the single technology to implement structured business processes.
Crowdsourcing is usually thought of as a way for companies to get some work sent outside its boundaries. But the same set of technologies enabling it can be applied internally to an organization to greatly improve the signal/noise ratio in social media by intelligently routing information from and to the right people. It also lets each person filter what they want to see, focusing research of the collective intelligence.
Crowdsourcing in the context of a hierarchical organization can also reduce the threat the domain expert feels when he/she shares problems and seeks help from the internal or external community. It can do that by facilitating collaboration among peers without specifically assigning individual credit for the co-created solution.
Technology providers such as Ledface, are creating environments where social collaboration generates less noise and co-creation happens without ego, promising a brighter future for enterprise collaboration.