snakes and ladders

Let’s play snakes and ladders. Collaboration snakes and ladders. 

Every organization that launches a platform for the purpose of generating conversations across silos and speeding up the sharing of knowledge, whose intent is to make internal collaboration more ‘social’ and thereby more effective, plays this game — whether they realize it or not.

The rules are simple: Wrong move, and down the snake you slide. Right move, up the ladder you go. 

In this game though, we're not moving along the board through random chance, the throw of a dice. Here, we make a decision every time we land on a square. Poor decision, down you go. Good decision, onwards and upwards. 

And when we reach the end point, the final square, we reap the rewards social collaboration promised — problems solved, connections being made, knowledge moving faster, new opportunities exploited.

In Collaboration Snakes and Ladders everyone can be a winner, so let’s start with some of the big decisions that can determine which direction your social initiative will go.

Do we assign ownership or senior management accountability for the platform?

This early decision will keep you from climbing the ladder until it’s resolved. It’s not uncommon for someone geeky to set up a platform deep in the bowels of an organization and people start to use it. But social collaboration cannot ultimately flourish without proper business acknowledgement and support — just like any other business initiative.

Should we enlist the CEO as our biggest advocate?

Up you go if he or she already is, as reward for all that hard work convincing leadership that this is an important part of the organization’s business strategy. Otherwise back down you go, to do that hard work until you can answer yes. 

Social collaboration without a leader declaring, "This is how I expect the organization to work" will always struggle.

Do we have a clear, defined and articulated vision for collaboration?

A vision that says "So we can collaborate better" will bring very few along with you. 

A vision connecting it to the organization’s broader goals will help, though not necessarily engage the workforce who often are not motivated by corporate vision. 

A vision that stirs individuals to greater efforts in their own role is what you’re looking for. Something more like, "So we can each innovate in our own way for the benefit of the customer." That starts to put a purpose and sharper focus around why we should collaborate, as opposed to just increasing productivity. 

People often think collaboration doesn’t need a vision. They’re wrong.

Should we create a community manager role?

This does not mean adding the words "community management" to someone’s existing role. It means approval to create a full-time Community Manager role. 

This role can be spread across more than one person, but make sure you've got senior commitment to resourcing the position. 

Social collaboration is not just giving staff a nice little Facebook-like app to occasionally post stuff or ask a question. You are trying to generate a whole new way of working. It needs coordination and management — as with any business initiative.

Do we drive all conversations here instead of to closed systems (e.g. email)?

At this point, many of you are probably resigned to sliding back down a few squares. This is one of the most overlooked tactics when deploying social collaboration. 

People can become justifiably confused when social is "added" to existing channels, especially email. No one’s suggesting taking email away on day one, if ever (although some forward-thinking organizations have), but make clear that closed channels should only be used in specific cases (when confidentiality is needed, for example). One of the great benefits of social collaboration is that everyone sees the question, everyone sees the answer.

Congratulations, you’re doing well. But don’t relax!

Should we employ a governance structure around our social collaboration platform?

If your answer is "A what?" or you hesitate a few beats too long, down you go a few squares. 

We're not referring to IT governance, or software training. This is business governance, though perhaps it could be called guidance: Decisions on what sort of content should go where; what specific features or tools to use and when; helping users understand the role of the platform in the ever-more complex universe of intranet tools. It’s a great way to bring people along on the journey. Another one of those simple, but overlooked, tactics to make your social collaboration initiative work.

And here's one last decision you might not have expected.

Have we changed the sign over our Community Manager’s desk to read "Innovation Manager"?

Before you ask "Why?" ask "Why not?" 

Their role will remain essentially the same — they will still broker knowledge and increase the speed with which it flows, facilitate connections, nudge conversations, etc. Yet this simple change of title will strengthen, focus and motivate the role. 

Every decision they make, every conversation they steer or energize, every adjustment to the community they make, will have innovation as its driver. Strategically. Tactically. "Is this helping us innovate?" A Community Manager who sees him or herself as an Innovation Manager will be one of your most important social collaboration assets.

We've only touched on some of the bigger decisions likely to send you sliding down a few squares or climbing up towards what I hope are clearly defined, lofty goals. I invite you to add more of your own in the comments section.