In my last post I wrote about communication being an important aspect of knowledge work and decision making. I can sometimes get a little too academic with how things are supposed to work and so I thought I’d write a follow-up post that uses a concrete example (IRL for some) of how communication helped me and my colleague, Tom Cummings, just the other night.
The setup here isn’t that important other than to to say we were at the beginning stages of a new project and decided a brainstorming session was in order. We found an empty conference room, a whiteboard and started to get our ideas down.
Social Business Design aside: This conference room is what we commonly refer to as a silo. A silo is anything (an organization, software…a conference room) that keeps information within its walls, making it hard for an outsider to discover what is going on behind them. Tom and I were working alone, the rest of the company had no visibility into what we were doing.
Five minutes in to our brainstorm we were interrupted by a much more responsible group of colleagues who actually reserved the conference room for a meeting. We packed up our stuff, white board included, and as there were no other conference rooms available, made camp in the hallway. It’s important to note that this is really the only hallway that exists in our open floor plan office, so by default it is the highest trafficked hallway we have.
Social Business Design aside: A hallway is very much like a dynamic signal, a ‘dynamic information flow produced by constituents.’ As Tom and I were working in the hallway we were being passed by other employees with different experiences, expertise, points-of-view and tacit knowledge. Our activities were now visible to the rest of the company.
In the hallway we were being passed by colleagues. They could see what we were working on and chose to either keep walking or stop and engage us. We experienced both. Within ten minutes, Tom and I found oursleves in a conversation with two colleagues each knowledgeable and experienced on the work we were doing. Over the next 30 minutes we discussed our current situation, the vision and goals for the project, recent trends and developments and lessons learned from having ‘been there and done that.’ Afterwards, Tom and I literally went back to the drawing board to incorporate what we had just learned.
Social Business Design aside: I mentioned that colleagues in the hallway would either keep on walking or stop to talk to us. This is an example of a metafilter, ‘what’s important to one person may be meaningless to another.’ Those who wanted to participate could, those who had other interests could keep on going. By being in the hallway (the dynamic signal) we were making ourselves visible to the rest of the company so they could decide to participate or not.
It’s impossible to compare the Dave & Tom-only project to the Dave & Tom + Colleague Feedback project (because the former will never happen) but everyone involved felt much better about latter: more input, more experience, more tacit knowledge. We had engaged in communication and collaboration that resulted in a much more holistic approach to our work. Our path forward became more clear, informed and actionable.
You might not have the collaboration luxury of working in the same office as the rest of your company, so this might not be your everyday experience. The good thing is you don’t have to be in the same office to collaborate with colleagues. There are fantastic tools available that will give your company all the virtual hallways, metafilters and whiteboards it needs. But, tools are the easy part these days. Your company is filled with smart people, gathering knowledge and insights every day…are you prepared to use them?