We worked with the IT Directorate of T-Mobile UK to develop a series of collaboration-focused solutions to help drive employee performance.
– Programme delivery
– Tech implementation
– Exec coaching
An ‘organisational memory’ problem
Costly mistakes were being repeated – there didn’t seem to be useful lessons learned anywhere – people not involved/had visibility at the decision stage, and were unable to contribute ideas/point out existing solutions etc.
Projects by email meant closed communications
Many project seemed to be operated on a ‘need to know’ basis – probably not deliberately, but because of the de facto of email
delivered communication left many people ‘out of the loop’
‘Brain Drain’ from Contractors leaving
Contractors are developing a massive, important amount of skill and knowledge – some of them have documented that on the wiki, so there’s a lasting memory of that information
Rise of the Matrix Organisation
People are working in increasingly ad-hoc teams, that often mix different companies, supplier, partners and individuals – so exchange and the it dept. dominance of internal contact lists has no relevance in that shared space.
What we did
After my analysis, and detailed interviews with employees, I designed prototypes of open information systems, ranging from blogs, podcasts checklist apps, and a very basic wiki – I’d convinced the IT Directors that we should experiment and observe what worked. It’s here that I learnt the value of prototypes with a ‘lower-case p’– early stage, low-key tools that don’t over-promise, and are essentially modest experiments, without the angst and scrutiny of large-scale rollouts.
I ’embedded’ with teams and evangelised the various prototypes, paying close attention to which ones seemed to work for people, and how they were used.
Use of the wiki exploded – in part because of a deliberate (and contentious) decision to have open editing a al Wikipedia, which meant Teams could easily create and share ideas.
From this prototype’s success, I was then able to build a ‘proper’ collaboration platform, through heavy customisation of Confluence, a leading wiki platform.
My role developed in a chief evangeliser, and using the platform to promote several collaboration-focused ideas and technologies that Participo built from scratch.
The wiki grew to be an EU-wide platform, where multinational teams would, with support from myself, collaborate using the system.
The wiki, with some extra tools we built, really did deliver the promise of a collaboration ‘operating system’ for T-Mobile; I’m proud of the changes in people’s working practices and attitude to open information sharing we helped facilitate.
A personal watershed moment was when I saw a senior manager in a meeting – answering a peer’s question about one of his projects – searching the system from his Blackberry. There was now an expectation and trust that the system we’d built, held ‘memory’ from team’s activities.
Projects were documented, discussions curated, and all searchable – this created, over time, a deep organisational memory, storing project history, individual expertise and conversations.
An unanticipated output from the project was the pent-up demand to publish ‘personal processes’ – team-level data collections, publishing, project workflows and other activities that weren’t at enough scale to get ‘baked in’ to formal systems. We worked hard to support these activities – sometimes building custom apps for others to share, or simply coaching, observing and sharing knowledge where required.
I learn a lot from this – in many ways it predated the workflow features I now implement in ‘social business’ software.
Freedom of Information
Initially a design choice to remove any ‘friction’ around usage, the open nature of the platform generated really interesting behaviours and insight. It’s the feature that taught me the most about people’s reaction, trust cultures, and ultimately prevailing on initially contentious features. I’ve softened my approach since, and now advocate a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ approach to information in my customers (where information can be locked, but is ‘set free’ after 6 months, by default).
I pioneered the use of video exit interviews of Contractors – teams, faced with the loss of key experts, with my initial guidance a team would collaborate and build a set of questions. They then video’d their contractor, and the responses were ‘placed on the team’s wiki.
Given the usual gap in Contractors working on teams, this created a great benefit to incoming Contractors “it was like being able to interview my predecessor”.
It’s a great example of a ‘lo-fi’ intervention that has great organisational RoI – no vendors involved (er, apart from me), and no project plans etc – just a team (and soon lots of teams) fixing an information problem with available technologies.
The flow of information and attention through the system proved to be a great way to surface and connect expertise across the Org Chart. By building in custom newsfeeds that exposed other people’s activities, creating auto-linking across content, and finally, launching a ‘ask a question’ function, we pioneered social interactions across the business, in the context of their work.
Direct connections were made between employees, who had otherwise no Org Chart connections – a really positive example of the Organisational ROI that can be achieved from open collaboration.
Research notes and briefings related to this case study:
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