Creating a Culture of Productivity
As I prepare to head over to the UK at the end of this month to speak at Commsverse 2022 in London, including a session entitled “Understanding the Culture of Collaboration in your Organization,” I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about the working team dynamics and underlying culture around the collaboration tools that we use.
I was reading through some article clippings that I collect in an old 3-ring binder with page dividers, many of which I think I pulled out of an old copy of either Business 2.0 or Fast Company in the late 1990’s. For many years now, my habit has been to go through the several magazines that appear in my mail each month, pulling anything relating to collaboration or social informatics, and add the clippings to this binder of potential writing material.
But what got me thinking today was how much of my career has been focused around automating and improving productivity, in general. My first software startup that I co-founded in 1997 sought to identify relationships and patterns within information assets (similar to the concept of the social graph) with the goal of helping individuals and teams to increase productivity.
Productivity is the underlying theme within some of the leading books on social networks. Pick up Connected by Christakis and Fowler, Six Degrees by Watts, Understanding Social Networks by Kadushin, or either Linked (my favorite) or Bursts by Barabasi and you’ll find that improving productivity permeates each of them.
In the 13 years since I left Microsoft and joined the ISV community, I have presented dozens (or more) sessions on the topic of social, and within those sessions presented the idea that one of the chief goals of a collaboration platform is to improve productivity. And for those who have been able to sit through one of those sessions, you know how passionate I am about the idea that social drives collaboration productivity — both through delivering a more engaging user experience, but also, more practically speaking, by improving the search and discovery process.
How, you ask? Social adds, enhances, refines, expands both content and context.
As I’m sure you would agree, content and context (and the underlying metadata) is what drives search, helps define and categorize activities and tasks, and enables many of the features within the platforms we use (like Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and Yammer).
Think about the most common SharePoint scenario: adding a document to a document library. As you upload a file, you might have the ability to apply relevant keywords from a pre-defined term store. Your taxonomy adds structure to the content. In addition to the required taxonomy fields, you may also apply a few relevant keywords that are not part of the taxonomy, but which you know will provide richer context to the content. Folksonomy, in conjunction with a proactive governance model, refines your taxonomy so that common folksonomy terms eventually find their way into the managed taxonomy, so that others can use those terms more broadly. To make this model work requires some effort from your team — a governance process to regularly review end-user keywords, delete irrelevant terms, promote others, and overall optimize your platform for a healthy search experience.
Social utilizes your metadata to enhance conversation, and make your dialog applicable to your work output. Social interaction further enriches the context and visibility of your content, especially when in context to the office graph and some of the new machine learning capabilities built into the Microsoft 365 experience. The AI within the platform is able to learn from the content, people, and conversations you interact with — and through your continued social interactions, refines its results based on what it learns.
We don’t always know what content we’re looking for. The limitation of the traditional search model is that we only find that content which fits into our specific search terms. If someone uploads content without applying taxonomy or folksonomy (which, let’s admit it, is the case for the majority of our content) then you rely on your search crawler to search through titles and metadata descriptions. But through our social connections, we may locate new content based on personal and professional relationships, and through tags (an ever-growing folksonomy) applied by people you’ve never met and maybe never will…..because they were able to find that content through their social circles and apply some context of their own.
Productivity improves when people can find their content, and (more importantly) when the processes you ask them to follow — to ensure that metadata is assigned, and that your compliance/security guidelines are being met — also fits into the way they need to work.
That’s really the key: design solutions that match the needs and working habits of your people, rather than force people to learn a new way to work. Social tools tend to be a more natural fit for the way that people connect and collaborate