Guest blog by Peter Staal: The advantages of crossing departmental boundaries
The arrival of social intranets has enabled employees to connect and work with people from outside their own department or organization. But what do we gain by doing this?
A social intranet can give an organization's internal communication a huge boost. However, many organizations are not reaping all the benefits. Without the right incentives, employees are prone to use the platform for internal team communications only (see for example Rik Mulder's article on Frankwatching on homophily within the organization - only available in Dutch). They're not really connected to the rest of the organization, let alone to the outside world. Because of this lack of connections, employees are missing out on a number of advantages that stem from diverse and rich social networks. Several researches have proved the necessity for organizations and individual employees to cross departmental boundaries and even organizational boundaries.
Sociologist Mark Granovetter published an article in 1973: ‘The strength of weak ties’. It convincingly reported that most people don't get their ideas from friendships or close contacts. Rather, they are inspired by vague acquantainces. These weak ties also prove be instrumental in finding a new job. Granovetter found that 17 percent of people looking for a new job were pointed to a vacancy by close contacts whereas a whopping 28 percent heard of vacancies through weaker ties in their network. So in conclustion, it's the weaker links in your network that can bring new and unexpected information to you.
The definition of serendipity is to find something unexpected and useful while you're looking for something completely different. Using a social intranet you can greatly increase the chance of serendipity, especially if you also look across your team's or even organization's borders. There are many examples of large organizations in which employees suggested time- or cost-saving ideas on their social intranet. But things like these are extremely hard to plan or predict: a random comment posted today could not mean much now, but it could prove to be worthwhile in the future. It is also difficult to measure serendipity. That particular comment on your social intranet could spark a completely new way of thinking for someone. Later, this new way of thinking could lead to great innovations. But will anyone really trace it back to that one old comment on the platform - which perhaps wasn't even aimed at anything innovative at all. The best thing an organization can do is to organize its enterprise social media in such a way that serendipity happens naturally.
“A random comment on your social intranet could spark a completely new way of thinking for someone. Later, this new way of thinking could lead to great innovations."
Research has shown that exposing employees to different opinions and ideas leads to greater innovative power. The real eureka moments and greatest new ideas often arise from combining different ideas and points of view. Multidisciplinary teams can realize impactful innovations in their organization because they can quickly adapt to developments outside the organization. In this type of team, everyone is directly connected to the outside world and therefore capable of delivering new ideas to anticipate any developments.
About Peter Staal
Peter Staal is the founder and co-owner of Bind, an agency for community consultancy. He helps organizations to implement online communities and social intranets. He is excited about organizations who want to work together in a more efficient way and who want to share knowledge by means of online communities. In the past, Peter worked with industry and trade organizations and with big international corporates. He knows what works and what doesn't because of his vast experience with community management. Hij makes sure organizations don't skip any steps. He ensures that they understand the importance of creating a mandate on different levels, and of correctly implementing community management.