A new Socialtext customer, a government organization, is in the process of launching Socialtext for collaboration within and across project teams implementing a major set of environmental initiatives. Today they asked me a fundamental question: "Should we create a separate collaborative space for each project team, or have everyone collaborate in a single, shared space"?
I call this the "one-or-many" question. It comes up all the time. I don't think I've ever blogged my answer, so I will remedy that now.
There's no right or wrong answer. Both approaches have pros and cons, but there are very clear criteria for when you should take which approach.
Good reasons to have multiple workspaces (e.g., one for each project):
- There's confidential material that's not shareable within the organization
- Employees are intensely risk-averse and won't participate honestly if their contributions are broadly accessible outside the immediate team
- People work in disparate areas, and will view updates from other areas as spam
Good reasons to have one workspace:
- You want to support and encourage cross-silo collaboration and coordination
- You want colleagues to have greater visibility into what's happening in other parts of the organization
- You have a small implementation and don't want to dilute the network effects by splitting the cocktail party up into multiple private rooms
In general, I find that very small implementations (<100 participants) almost always benefit from working in one big workspace. The group is small, confidentiality is rarely an issue, and business processes are so fluid that everyone needs to be in everyone else's business. Once you get over 100 people, however, business processes and accountabilities become more formal, and you want to augment that one big workspace with smaller workspaces that are specific to teams, geographies, projects, etc.