I blog a lot about the importance of in-the-flow collaboration: the idea that organizations adopt collaborative tools only when those tools are integrated into the flow of daily work. That idea resonates with a lot of readers, but so far I haven't said very much about how to do it.
The other day, I saw a really great example of an in-the-flow collaborative tool at Acumen Fund. When project champions Brian Trelstad and Rob Katz set out to implement a knowledge management system, they quickly realized that the organization already had all sorts of processes and mechanisms for capturing knowledge and ideas. The question was how to tap into those resources in a way that would create transparency, access, and reuse across the organization's four locations in Hyderabad, Karachi, Nairobi, and New York.
Brian and Rob came up with some really great techniques to redirect Acumen's flow of work through the collaborative workspace:
- "Instead of email": Acumen already had a culture of sending company-wide emails containing interesting articles and thoughts and triggering discussion threads. But those threads were lost in everyone's in-boxes and archives. So Brian and Rob created a button called "Instead of Email" and then approached Acumen's top emailers to use Instead of Email instead of email. Acumen even created a set of email aliases that allow users to send emails to Instead of email. (The language gets a little counter-intuitive...kind of like going to a Start menu to shut down your computer.)
- Meeting notes: Acumen already had a culture of taking detailed meeting notes, especially at company-wide "Monday Morning Meetings." Those notes are now taken online, automatically tagged as meetings, with a standard naming convention including the date and meeting name. Acumen's leadership team reinforces use of the workspace by posting agendas and notes in the workspace rather than email
- Contact details: The company directory, complete with contact information, conference room dial-ins, and other logistical details are all kept in collaborative workspace. It may not be sexy, but it's mission-critical information and it keeps people coming back. And putting it in the wiki makes it easy to keep up to date.
- Office clocks: With offices in four time zones, Acumen's staff is constantly calculating local times for meetings. Rob found a Google widget for international time clocks, and dropped it into the workspace. It was cheap and really really useful.
Finally, there was the way Brian and Rob launched the new workspace. They called an office-wide meeting in New York (Acumen's biggest office), and kicked it off with a scavenger hunt. Participants were given 20 questions to answer from information that was already in the workspace. It was a fun way to launch the effort and, more importantly, it forced everyone to log in and try it out for themselves. The winning team got a pair of Starbuck's cards, which they promptly gave to the runners-up. "We don't like coffee", they announced proudly. "We just wanted to win."