In the last 6 months I have been busy with 2 failed attempts to help 2 organisations work with social media. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, if you like to learn, then it was!
So why did I fail?
Basically – who knows! But I have a few ideas that I would like to share.
What I tried to do was to introduce different social media tools that would help these organisations to share information, ideas and experiences, to collect documentation in one place, and to collaborate on joint strategies and plans. In both cases there was a genuine task to be carried out, which could benefit from using these tools and which had a limited time frame with an upcoming deadline. Really a hot idea. Or so I thought. And at the start, they liked it, too.
But then – nothing further happened. In one case, the task was postponed to some future date as yet unknown, and in the other case a Yammer network was set up which was used by only few people who used it only to send out ideas and information but were not really aimed at two-way communication, collaboration or engagement. The task did not get done.
What I found interesting when I started to identify reasons why was that both organisations had quite a lot in common. They both consist of “loose parts” that work independently based on a clear task division and very clear “stay out” signs for others, with only one of the parts being focused on the organisation as such. The part having the organisation itself as a main task is working on things like strategies, policies, fundraising and the like, whereas the other parts implement activities and do not commit a whole lot of attention to strategising and such.
Within the organisations there is limited informal communication and limited personal contact between people, especially between people from the different sections. Perhaps as a result of that, there is a limited connection between both people and the functions being carried out by the different sections, and it looks like people do not feel safe enough to share freely. They may feel judged by others, they may feel that others cannot be trusted with certain information, they may be afraid of meddling by others.
In short, internally all signs for open communication through social media or otherwise are a fiery red.
No wonder nothing happened!
So what did I learn from all this? A lot! And probably more than if everything would have worked out perfectly!
- Whether you can successfully complete a joint task using social media depends a lot on to what extent you can complete the task without social media – social media can make your life easier, certainly, but if it is impossible to get people to work together offline or via e-mail, then social media may not do the trick.
- Collaborative capability depends on the level of development of an organisation, network or community and on its internal organisation and culture. The fact that there are common tasks does not necessarily mean that such capability exists.
- The role of a facilitator is limited – a facilitator can definitely smooth the path but cannot from the outside in “enforce” a collaborative environment, especially not within a very limited time frame.
- That is not to say that a facilitator needs to be completely helpless in the face of such a situation. A facilitator can perhaps more easily than the organisation itself notice what is going on and can re-group; try to find another angle and another path to achieve the learning, change or strategic objectives set by the organisation or individual.
- A facilitator needs to keep his or her cool at all times! Patience is key to getting there. And getting there is key. All the rest is just what happens on the way.
- It helps a lot if a facilitator can stay enthusiastic and motivated, even if a new path needs to be cut out through the jungle.
Thankfully I found that I was able to remain enthusiastic and optimistic and that in the few moments that I was not, I had a variety of social media networks and tools available to me through which I could share my experiences and questions. Or through which I could play my way back to optimism!