OK, at least you a reading. Thanks.
The organization is a network. Networks have emergent properties. Translation: things come up from the randomness of interactions in a way not entirely predictable. Super-nodes, for example, behaving as a single node. More translations: that group of connected, yet not formally related individuals that ‘create’ a tribe (group of common interest or habits) that starts having a single and similar view of the world. Nobody set out to achieve this; it happened, it emerged, good or bad.
But for that to happen, a network was needed (ok, it was there), connectivity ( they actually could use the internal Yammer group) and a progressive sense of belonging formed by seeing and feeling that they were sharing similar stories. For example. They did not have rules imposed. They were not given constrains and, frankly, for pretty much all the time, they were left alone and invisible.
There are options. You can let the network to produce emergent effects (spontaneous collaboration, innovation hubs, Sceptical United Group, or bunch of bloggers, or the tribe above) or you could induce and engineer some effects, no waiting, but designing.
Spontaneity, emergent collaboration and idea sharing either come from a network effect, or need to be engineered. Engineering means creating the conditions, seeding the possibilities, giving and publicising permissions, producing safety nets and broadcasting the business impact. If you want spontaneous collaboration, wait for it, or buy water coolers and sofas. Also bring engineers from the fifth floor to sit in front of the commercial guys in the second floor, and the other way around. The physical movement was engineered, the mind sharing is not.
Design forms of social-ability and don’t worry about their potential misuse. Increase interactivity and stop worrying about ‘meeting rules’. Don’t worry about internal Face-booking-waste-of-time. If waste, it will dilute itself. Believe me, this is the least of your worries.
But this is not what many people do. Because they fear the lack of control, they start putting borders.
Here is your team, be innovating, think out of the box, collaborate, be autonomous, be entrepreneur and be productive. This is the membership of team, this the Product Leader, this is the Product Managers, this is the core and this is the extended. This is your budget; you’ll need to report the first Wednesday of the month. Take risks but not too many, and better if they pay off. Challenge the default positions of the company but don’t touch A, B or C. Be creative but make sure it is productive. You are free my friends, be happy.
Freedom in a straight jacket is the closest thing we have in many organizations. Designing the informality of the network is key. Internal Communications people have a role. HR has a role. Business leaders have a role. IT has to curate
Because of the (on purpose) apparent contradiction in terms (‘All that must be spontaneous must be engineered’) people react in horror. That is good! How can that be? But it can. We plan for formality: teams, committees, reporting. We similarly must plan for informality: emergent clusters, emergent social networks, increased connectivity, peer-to-peer engagement and work, barriers down, let it go.
It’s not one or the other (I can hear) but both.
The point is, we spend 75% of the time designing formality that produces 25% of the goods, and 25% of the time designing for informality that produces 75% of the best innovation, the best employee engagement, the best culture to be proud of and the best overall effectiveness.
Surely not even the accountants can see this logic.
All that you want to come up as spontaneous must be engineered in their conditions for that to happen.