For the last month or so, I have been working with a couple of corporate clients providing consulting around social learning and communities of practice. In effect, the clients issues revolve around the opportunity to have their national teams collaborate openly with the ultimate aim to achieve their business objectives. Rather than go into the detail of the specific work, I’d like to reflect how my own networks have helped me relate to my clients, their teams and their business.
First of all, the opportunity to work directly with the client business and not their learning and development function was welcome. You couldn’t help but feel that you were witnessing the ‘engine’ of the business when you were out there in their own work their own environments. All the interactions and relationships, the culture, the acronyms, the banter, the decisions being made, the deals being sought, the equipment, systems, tools that were used, the problems solved on a daily basis. There was action and there was movement. It was all around you – with every person in the business playing an integral role to the company’s success.
And you know, not one person mentioned courses, assessments or learning objectives. Instead, it was discussions around business outcomes, strategy, relationships, trust, innovation and engagement.
These opportunities to observe other workplaces fed a desire in me to learn more about my client’s business and their challenges. In effect, I had to integrate my own “work and learning” into the consulting role then share this back to my client. A continual loop of shared and collaborative learning. There were no right answers, only possibilities to explore.
I’m not an expert in their business but through my own knowledge, skills, experience and networks, I brought another perspective to the business problem they were trying to solve. Hopefully, I gave them some perspectives, ideas and options that they hadn’t previously considered.
Reflecting on the way I worked with my clients, the irony was not lost on me as to that’s how they want their own people to work.
But the question is how?
Here are some things that I did to seek out answers to questions that were in my mind and my clients minds. As well as undertaking undertaking extensive interviews internally there was a big amount of research and links to networks outside the organisations.
Share My Work
Every client is provided with their own link to an Evernote folder that I set up for them. They have access to this shared folder for one year. All work and updates are provided in this folder so that they can see what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. It’s a good way to sort out notes, curate links and references and do a “brain dump” of material that can be sorted.
Share My Learning
There’s a lot of research that goes into it but here are just some examples of what I do:
- Yammer Networks
- Yammer is my first ‘port of call’ for finding information and people. Think about it, using the External Networks within Yammer, you have instant connections to people and organisations who have implemented this enterprise social networking platform and there’s a myriad of resources, case studies and stories around social learning – and it’s GLOBAL. I have lost count the number of times, networks within Yammer have solved a problem for me, directed me to someone I could speak to or simply provided me with tools that I could immediately use without reinventing them. I don’t understand how some companies cannot see the value of the use of external network function in Yammer to create bridges directly to their customers and suppliers. Untapped potential.
- LinkedIn Groups
- LinkedIn is another great resource, in particularly the Group function where you can connect with people instantly without having to be introduced by someone in your network or sending them a generic introduction request (which I have done in the past, ooops!) Using the Advanced Search function in Linked In and using Boolean search parameters, you can filter responses to find the right people to connect with. Once you found them, it’s a matter of seeing who in your network has a connection and politely asking for an introduction – or seeing if they are a member of a group and joining that group to connect with them directly. LinkedIn is not just a “job hunting” site.
- Google+ Communities
- I wish I had more time to explore and use Google+ and know that once again, there is untapped potential here. I focus in on Google+ Communities and join the ones where there is a lot of banter and sharing of great information and links. You can pick up on patterns, trends and experts in these communities. My exposure to Google+Communities have been through connectivist MOOCs and I cannot stress enough how these have helped grow my network.
- Love them or hate them, MOOCs are a great research tool. Personally, I’m not fussed if you have started one, not started one, finished or given up on a MOOC. I see these as potential curated list of resources where someone else has done the thinking for me. For me, I see a MOOC as “one” means to an end which has been arrived from a variety of different means. Along the way, I cherry pick from Google, LinkedIn, My Contacts, YouTube, Twitter, Evernote….the beauty is that I came to that end by creating my own understanding, knowledge and context by myself which then engages me with how to solve the client’s business performance problem.
There are a myriad of other sources that I also used such as:
- YouTube (For YouTube, I value the support and links provided by Robert Sheridan (@RobSheridan9) who is a great YouTube curator on all topics related to Lean, Agile, Knowledge Sharing and Networks)
- Vimeo (hidden gems in here)
- Facebook (let’s not forget that we all have friends who may know “people who know people” – by sharing what you are doing, there’ll always be those serendipitous events such as people emailing you the PERFECT article at the RIGHT time that you need it the most (thank you David Randall @tracksweleave)
- Of course, Google.
So as you can see, sometimes the answers that your company seeks are in the heads and hearts of the people within your company and it’s finding ways for them to do what they do best – that is, be social. Reconnect with others. Get them out of the restraints of their offices or cubicles, stop them from sending that ‘Reply All’ email and go back to doing what we do best – talking, connecting, learning, working (that is, “real” working) and most of all, smiling.