Virtual Teams

Tweetcamp and some underlying trends

by Kevan Hall, CEO, Global Integration

Kevan Hall at Tweetcamp

At Tweetcamp London 2011,  I joined a number of discussions on the use of Twitter – and social media more generally –  in a wide range of contexts, with participants from education, government, industry, media and a whole other range of disciplines. The cross-disciplinary trends were interesting to observe.

1. Tools like Twitter encourage communication across the traditional silos.  When you reach out and choose to follow people you are interested in, it tends to be irrelevant to functional boundaries. Twitter and tools like it help connect across the organization and encourage matrix working and communication.  In this environment, the internal communications role needs to be fast,  flexible and facilitate the conversation, rather than trying to control the content.  You could argue that Twitter democratises information within an organization, in the same way as it has done outside and that is starting to become interesting. Which leads us to the second trend…

2. Social media will tend to flatten traditional hierarchies because it encourages horizontal communication.  It encourages matrix working.  It encourages people to reach out and find someone with an answer, rather than just someone with a job title.

With tools like Twitter, we choose who to follow and to pay attention to, and on what basis.  We may therefore choose to pay attention to internal information that isn’t packaged and controlled by communications people, but disseminated by people who are in the know, or alternatively, by people who have a controversial or amusing point of view. This fundamentally changes the nature of internal information flows.

There is a strong link here to the kind of corporate culture that the organization has.  If the instinct of the corporation is to control, then it’s not going to work.  One of the delegates raised an example of a government department which allowed its employees to tweet, but only after approval.  The approval process was approximately 12 days – which rather stood in the way of social interaction.  The speed of messages in the social space is so fast that we can’t expect to control them.  We just have to join the conversation.

3. Twitter allows us to broaden our learning communities by connecting to people with similar jobs and challenges, not only inside the organization, but also externally, so product manager in one organization to product manager in another;  HR generalist in one organization to HR specialist at another.  In the past there were many barriers to cross organizational learning.  To get approval for a site visit, or to share information was quite difficult, but where people have Twitter networks in place across organizations, it’s sometimes easier for them to reach out and talk to an individual and get a response than to go through official channels.

So, for example, people are using Twitter to circumvent traditional service channels by talking to people direct.  These learning communities are formed by people who are offering information to those who wish to subscribe or pay attention to it, rather than the traditional way of operating, pushing information to an audience that might be largely indifferent to it.  It allows us to connect, at relatively low cost, people who have a problem with people who have a solution, rather than pushing out learning in the hope that some of it will stick.

All of these trends have big implications for management, hierarchies and communication within organizations.

Most focus in the past has been on how these tools are changing external contacts with customers and other consumers. Now open information flows are staring to make changes inside organizations – which makes for interesting times.

As specialists in matrix, virtual and global organizations, Global Integration sees an emerging role for different social media in the maintenance of communication in distributed teams and organizations.

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