Improving Interaction

I want to underline the importance, at meetings and conferences, of allowing participants to interact with each other, rather than load the day too heavily with content delivered “from the front”. They enjoyed the opportunity to share experiences, to question each other, and also exchange contacts and information.

In facilitation terms, this process is part of “groupware” – a set of approaches to the management and facilitation of group interaction, often supported by the use of software.

In the world of intranets, this groupware has been developed in different ways, often under the banner of “social software”. Social software seeks to encourage different kinds of interaction online and is still a “hot topic” for many IBF members.

My previous blog entries on this topic have pointed to the organisational culture often being a root cause of why interaction is poor on the intranet. If the culture has suppressed interaction offline, then that behaviour will be reflected online, to at least some extent.

Some companies, however, have experienced the opposite. Even where there is poor interaction offline, there has been an embracing of social software online. People have found the “new frontier” of the intranet less governed (at least initially) and with fewer boundaries than the more formal offline organisation. This has, of course, led to some blogging that has verged on anarchy and caused legal problems for the organisation, which has then had to sharply “reign in” the newly “empowered” bloggers!

Governance becomes a key issue when trying to develop more collaborative forms of working online. However, if the boundaries are set too narrowly, just as in a real-life workshop or meeting, the energy may also be depressed and the appetite and motivation for interaction reduced. People then become passive and minimise.

The use of Wikis online is a form of interaction that can lead to quite high levels of interaction, especially if there is a critical mass of users contributing – this leads to a very visible and helpful database of shared knowledge. In a workshop environment, when there is a real “buzz” in the room, this is often as a result of a lot of insight and useful knowledge being shared. Wikis have the potential to create the same high level of motivation.

However, it is critical mass that is important. It doesn’t work with a small number of people.

This is also true of message boards and discussion groups. One way to “preload” this interaction is the process of sharing knowledge or ideas in a very dynamic and motivating offline meeting or workshop, in essence a launch meeting for further interaction on the intranet. People leave the meeting with a restlessness to “continue the conversation”.

In this way, we model best practice, first, in the business itself, and then look to replicate the behaviour on the intranet.

Take a look at Ewan Semple’s article on social computing. Ewan underlines the need to get to the root cause of why the “social” is often missing from social computing, another contributing factor to poor intranet interaction.

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