#8: A Little Bit of Web 2.0

By | October 31, 2006

“The more collaborative the employees of a company are, the more successful the company becomes over time,” observed Shiv Singh in his August 2006 essay “A Web 2.0 Tour for the Enterprise.”

I’m very drawn to this idea of collaboration in the workplace. Companies can foster meaningful participation among employees from every level and department using interactive communication technologies.

“Employees that collaborate efficiently by leveraging each other’s intellect and resources create stronger and more successful products,” Singh noted.

About a month ago, I was appointed co-chairperson of a workplace committee charged with gathering “innovation ideas” from the staff. The committee was comprised of non-managerial personnel from a cross section of departments. The big bosses figured, rightly, that more staff would submit ideas if the request came from the bottom up.

To solicit ideas, the committee agreed to use a bunch of different approaches:

  • Face-to-face conversations with colleagues.
  • Multiple mass emails to the staff (Spam!)
  • Design and display large attention-grabbing posters in high-traffic areas, as well as witty fliers in unexpected places, such as the stalls in the bathrooms.
  • Incentive money: six $100 gift certificates awarded with a drawing to those who participated.

    All of the approaches seemed worthwhile and doable. We had one week to collect ideas. But the most obvious communication tool was missing from the mix: the web.

    So taking inspiration from our ICM501 class, I volunteered to create a small “innovation ideas” intranet website. The site served multiple functions. First, it was the committee’s online billboard. It provided a highly accessible place to keep all information about the committee, including the name, department and email address of each member; the explanation of why we were seeking ideas; and images of our posters and fliers.

    Second, a special “ideas” email address was created specifically for employee idea submissions. I also produced an online submission form to allow employees to submit ideas anonymously, if they preferred. This is what the form said:

    FILL IN THE BLANK
    I wish the company would _________________.

    Lastly, and most importantly, the intranet site publicly displayed all of the ideas as they were submitted (without names attached), much like comments on a blog.

    I figured if people could read what their colleagues were saying about improving our workplace, they would be more likely to submit an idea themselves, build upon an existing idea, or respond to a particular idea. The concept is one of the driving forces behind Web 2.0 — web-based software which is continually collaboratively updated.

    “Web 2.0 lets you share and incorporate multiple voices who quickly take the product, service or idea in a direction that you could not alone,” Singh wrote.

    Such an open and inclusive process seemed to be a fairly foreign concept to the big bosses. A few seemed threatened by the ideas coming out of the staff and the fact that everyone could read them on the intranet. I heard rumors that some managers were trying to figure out who was saying what.

    But the staff really seemed to like it. The response was enormous, far more than anyone expected. We heard from people who hadn’t made a peep in years. Many of my colleagues told me they appreciated the opportunity to get their ideas heard and distributed among the entire staff, not just their immediate manager or department.

    The “innovation ideas” intranet site, coupled with our other commitee approaches, tapped deep into what Singh referred to as “the wisdom of crowds.”

    Now the commitee is wading through some 70 pages of ideas and getting ready to give a presentation to the staff and managers. We plan to summarize what we learned from the submissions and give recommendations about ideas to act upon immediately and ideas to make long term goals.

    Companies should drop the culture of “control, containment and secrecy,” Singh argues. I agree. It causes the work environment to become one of competition rather than collaboration. Companies should try to embrace the values of Web 2.0 and its architecture of participation and rich interaction.

    “Companies that are more collaborative, participatory, efficient, user-driven and action oriented are recognized as the most successful,” Singh wrote.

    I can only imagine what could happen if my company was courageous enough to build upon the momentum of our recent web 2.0 experiment and keep the lines of communication open all the time. Morale would certainly improve. I think the product would, too.

    Citations:

  • Singh, Shiv (2006). Boxes And Arrows: A Web 2.0 Tour for the Enterprise. [html]

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