A Wiki as an integrated communication solution

So you would like to start getting the most of what Internet offers in terms of communication potential, both inside your company and with your customers ? New wiki solutions can help you achieve this goal. Featuring a classic website as well as a blog and a wiki interface, they will give you the flexibility and strength you're after.

A classic website

If you want to build a powerful and flexible website but lack technical knowledge, you may consider a wiki to this end. A wiki would allow you to create a website from scrap with a few pictures and written material. Then you could add new pages and features (such as a calendar or a photo album) if required. The architecture is flexible and let you create new section as your business grow. And all this cost effectively.

A Blog

Blogs are increasingly being used for corporates purposes. They give your company a space to publish updates and product news as well as insight in its field of activity. A blog is easy to update and require nothing else but an ability to write (which hopefully you have). Their spread and skyrocketing utilization in various enterprise contexts (communication on a project, on an initiative...) are a testimonial of their efficiency in this setting.

A space for collaborative work

Modern organigrams require more and more teamworking to be conducted. Classice-mail solutions do not meet the requirements induced by this evolution. Group initiatives are often impaired by a lack of structure to sustain the coordination of individual work. A wiki-based solution allows a quick flows of information as well as easy document management. Your team can coordinate itself and get its members to work rather than losing time in unhelpful meetings.

Your business could gain access to huge resources if it was using a wiki-based solution to integrate its various online communication processes. Take a step into the future of online communication, try a wiki solution !

Want more ? Stay tuned.


© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

If this article interested you, you might like XWiki. The company provides integrated wiki-based solutions to companies all over the world and is the most advanced on its market.

Wiki solutions for SMEs

In small businesses more than anywhere else, time means money. What does this have to do with wikis ?

Wikis ease coordination problems

As a small business, you have to handle work with multiple partners. Let's say that you are an architect : you have to work with your clients, subcontractors, builders, and so on. In order to do that you will have to send dozen of e-mails to them, often including attachments and forwarded through akward channels to people that should not receive them. Or you could choose to centralize all the relevant information in a virtual space that the people you are working with can access at any time, edit to add / correct informations and stay up to date with what is happening. This is what a wiki can do for you.

Wikis are a multidimensionnal solution

For your small business, a website is indispensable. A website ... or a blog ? How do you choose ? A wiki is an effective answer to this dilemma. Most wikis include a blog function, which mean that you will have a space to communicate quickly and easily on your company. Access Rights Management features let you choose who may have access to selected pages of your site. Here is a quick picture of what you can do : A few pages that everybody can see but only you edit, where you present your company and its products (you can even allow customers to buy online), another part where pages can be accessed and edited by your customers, your partners and you in order to manage specific projects, and a blog to post information about your business sector and additional updates about what's happening in your company.

Wikis are cheaper than supposedly "custom-designed" solutions

As a small business, your monetary resources are limited and you don't want to waste them. A wiki provides you with a preexisting interface that you can organize your way, and let you focus on what truly matters : write content relevant to your business and update it easily, without technical concerns. You will not have the flash animations that annoys your readers anyway, but rather an effective website that will cost you only a fraction of what a webdesigner would have asked. And you won't be bothered with the fact that you cannot add content when your webmaster is on holiday.

Wikis are a good solution for many small businesses needs when it comes to creating a website and managing projects with numerous actors involved. Now your Small Business can go Web 2.0 easily, just try a wiki !

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Pump your Intranet Up ! using a Wiki

So your company have been using an intranet for years, without any tangible result ? Looking forwarg to getting a system easy to install and that really works ? Here is what you can do !

A wiki is user-centered

Unlike your current system, where everything has to go through a webmaster before reaching the intranet, a wiki-powered system allows selected users to contribute and add content easily. Your out-of-date intranet will become a souvenir as soon as you will allow your employees to use it in order to communicate on what really matters for their job. Information stays current and can be shared among teams more efficiently. Now business needs rule, not the poor structure of your software !

Access Rights Management is easy

Stop wondering for years wether Mr Smith has access to the B-Zone that requires him to get a pass from the IT department ... in 3 weeks of time. You can tune access rights efficiently, with any level of detail (from the whole site to a single page, from all users to a given one). This means that you can easily control who sees/edit/comment on what and keep confidential information ... confidential. But also that you can provide access to a workspace to the new member of your team, who has been detached to work with you for those 3 weeks.

You can share documents (at last !)

The matter with e-mail is that one hardly (never?) knows wether he received the last version of this PowerPoint presentation he is supposed to present with his team on Monday. But the Content-Management System supposedly designed to handle this task is too obscure for anyone to actually use it. With a wiki, you can easily add any document to a given page, get it, modify it and put it back there, so that others know that they always get the current version to work on. No more "I though this version was the right one" when your more important slide is missing on Monday...

Using a wiki as an intranet fosters communication between employees and boosts productivity. Get rid of the skeleton that hangs on your server, it's time to go wiki !

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

How a Wiki may help reduce stress in your company

Stress at work is becoming an increasingly important problem for many companies (unsurprisingly : it costs UK industry £3.7 billion each year). This has led to many solutions being proposed by various consultants firms, often at an expensive cost. However, recent surveys show that basic organizational and training issues are playing a role in a large number of stressful situations. This article will argue that some of these issues can be successfully tackled by using a corporate wiki.

Why stress ?

Basically, stress is as much a physical as en emotional problem. Facing a high level of demand or a feeling that your workload is getting out of control weakens your body's resources and leaves you more vulnerable to other illnesses. It may occur in the form of headaches or stomach pains. Conversely, emotional fragility means that you are likely to react to situations in ways that will surprise others, either because you are concerned too much with minor problems - or the opposite.
Stress occurs most of the time when individuals are faced with situations they fell they cannot handle although they should be able to, or when the level of personal investment in the success / failure of a project is high. A typical stress - provoking situation occurs wherever a bundle of complex information has to be dealt with in a limited amount of time, without proper support.
It is a real concern for companies because it may affect as much as one in five persons in a given workplace and is the principal responsible factor for sickness absences.

What can you do ?


In a recent Guardian article, you can find an outline of a broader research that has been conducted on stress-causing situations and how to relieve workers. The study found out that one of the most important purveyor of stress where poor management practices. This comes as no surprise given the lack of specific training of most people that get access to management responsibilities. A few best practices have been identified, and this is where I think wikis have a role to play (You can find out what a wiki is there). By providing organization with a lightweight virtual structure, wikis allow staff empowering at a low cost and boost work effectiveness by cutting on coordination costs. Here is a list of the practices and the way wikis can help implement them :

  1. Better management of employees workflow. Managers tend to give their employees important amount of work without considering their current workload. A wiki would allow people to contribute to project in a common place they can access at any time, from everywhere. This means that instead of assigning one project to one person, you may name a coordinator that will administrate the project working space, where staff can log-in at any time when they are able to and contribute. Hence people with less workload than others would have more time to go there, have a look and get things done. Even though this does not suppress work involvement problems, it leads people into managing their rhythm of work and give them back control, which is important to avoid stressful situations which course we feel we cannot influence .
  2. Engaging employees in decision-making. This is a direct correlate of the previous point. If people can regain control on their workload, they will be more willing to participate and take their share of what has to be done. We tend to be more involved in projects we can effectively influence. A wiki helps building a structure where everyone can contribute and add his own brick to the whole building.
  3. Effective communication. "Why am I asked to do this ? What is all this for in the end ?" are common questions popping into our brains when asked to perform tasks which purpose we do not understand at first. The answer to this set of issues lies in communication. Telling people why they are asked to do things, asking them whether they could be done in a more efficient manner, reviewing their attitude towards their current work is really important. A wiki offers a space that all of them can edit to make suggestions, build a common idea, reflect on their practices and how to improve them. Most important, if read and contributed to by managers, it shows people you care about them and you feel interested in what they are doing.
  4. Considering people as full-scale human beings. We do not need to go back to Kant and his theory that people have to be considered as ends by themselves, not only means to accomplish things to understand the validity of this point. We are working with people who experience feelings, who have ideas, and so on. Valuing their contribution to the community, working in collaboration with them on the space wikis provide to tap into their knowledge and potential are opportunities a company has to consider.
  5. Last but not least : Show empathy ! This is what this article is all about, and this is what a wiki may contribute to. Interact with people, work collaboratively, value their contribution, show them why what they do is important for the company are things a manager should not forget to do. Getting the best out of people is a really thrilling experience, and this is what a wiki can do. By centralizing information, having all people to contribute to, taking into account eeveryone views and transforming them in a useful piece of work, wikis offer a real solution to a real problem.

These solutions are aiming at reducing the occurence of stressing situations and helping corporate environment running more smoothly by increasing the level of awareness between members of staff. As a collective entity, a company contains much more useful information than any of its members. The core issue lies in getting all the dots to connect. Stressful situations happen when this connecting process is understood as a matter of hierarchical relations, orders and lack of concern for people. Using a wiki provides a way towars the acknowledgement of the importance of everyone place in a company.

Conclusion

The hardest part of this schedule is likely lying in the fact that, given they lack specialized training, many managers still fail to acknowledge these core issues in people management. A good way to have them realize how the abilities of people can be used by using a tool that allow them to interact in a flexible way, build strong work-related documents, communicate effectively and coordinate their tasks. By giving back some control to the base, wikis helps getting people involved in their jobs. And, in the end, reduce the global level of stress. There is no perfect solution to stress problems. But there is interesting ways to try to reduce them.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC


References

Frost, Vicky (2006), "Can your manager manage ?", Saturday Guardian, Work 2 Section, 21/10/2006, pp. 1&2

How can a wiki help you build a "Blue Ocean Strategy" ?

The book "Blue Ocean Strategy", (Harvard Business School Press, February 3, 2005) by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne has exerted a great impact on the recent reflections on strategy. To get a sense of its influence, the following data is enough : it ranks #115 in Books in Amazon.com Sales Rank.

This article will try to assess what this strategy is all about and how it can be successfully implemented at a relatively low cost by using a wiki. It will argue why wikis and "Blue-Ocean Strategy" seems to fit perfectly each other. In fact, it will show how these two concepts share inextricable links and therefore how their complementary use creates more value than when they are set to work separately.

"Blue Ocean Strategy" ?

(You may want to skip this part of the article if you are already familiar with Chan and Mauborgne book and/or ideas.)

Basically, pursuing a blue ocean strategy means focusing on the creation of new, unknown markets instead of operating only in the realm of current competitors on a given market. It is not only about valuing innovation (for this would be a quite common suggestion), but also about how to pack it into a coherent price/value/target offer, in a customer-centered way. Blue ocean are defined as markets that has not yet come into existence, as opposed to red ocean markets that owe their color to the "cut-throat competition" that takes place in them.

This approach puts a resolute emphasis on the importance of using "strategic moves" as the conceptual unit to interpret business and industries successes and failures :

"The strategic move that matters most to both an industry's long run profitable growth and that of individual companies is that repeated creation over time of new market space that captured a mass of buyers." (Chan and Mauborgne, 2005)

The problem then shifts to the question of the creation of such a strategy.

Learn to swim in a blue ocean : how to dig your own pool


Although this is too often ignored or simply forgotten, genuine strategy is a matter of long-term, consistently put into practice decisions. This implies that creating your own blue ocean strategy is not only an operational problem, but necessitates a specific underlying structure to be built. Wikis are the kind of tools meant to play this role. The real nature of the blue ocean theory has to be mastered to understand why. Indeed, most of the time, blue oceans are waiting right next to you in every industry. The basic example is of the Ford model T, of which very existence was enough to create the market of affordable cars. The new field did not lie outside the automobile market, but in its very heart.

The next step to consider is that, in a company, the people that are the most likely to be aware of where a new market could be searched for are almost ... everyone. Be it a salesperson in direct contact with buyers, an engineer or even a bubbling employee : all those who are implicated in your company potentially have ideas or information that could be used consistently in order to point towards new markets. This may first seem absurd : how may laypeople be more informed than a R&D team, for example ? What you should remember here is that your employees represent a great number of people that deal on a daily basis and come across all the aspects of your current business. Even though it means shifting usual assumptions on their heads, if you think about it, it makes sense : if an opportunity lies somewhere, you can guess that someone may have spotted it. The matter becomes, how do you get to know it ?

As you may have already guess, an answer lies in the power of wikis. By allowing people to communicate and participate on a global platform, and motivating them to do so, you will quickly see how unexpected knowledge pops out and builds itself. An insight can be complemented by another, and free editing means freedom for everyone to make its contribution, whatever its size. You have a tool that allows you to tap into the pool of knowledge of one of the most knowledgeable sets of people on a particular topic : those who work on it. Exploring and creating new land can be conducted much more efficiently by coordinating the efforts of a crowd than by asking a small team to do it. Give a quick glance at Wikipedia : do you imagine even 500 individuals writing more than 1,500,000 entries ? The best part is yet to come : first, this will not cost you a huge amount of money for you can ask your IT department to do it or buy it for less than $2,000 a month from a specialized company, and last, it can be put in place without modifying current organigrams, just by providing employees with an account and a guide on how to share their knowledge. Ask your questions, they will answer. Collectively, they know.

Once a potential new market has been identified, you will have to decide whether to "expand existing boundaries" or not. Chosing to do so, you will have to take care of some core features.

What are the main characteristics of a blue ocean strategy ?


The fundamental originality of the blue ocean approach will appear here. Indeed, a company should not focus only on innovation, but on a global offer. This offer is built on a relationship between consumer's utility level, price, costs and innovation. It is not only giving something new, it is giving something new that creates its own market through the advantages it offers to consumers at given price that in turn determines costs, rather than the classical cost-plus way. It is opening new perspectives, starting from different assumptions about the people that could constitute a market, and so on. A good blue ocean strategy should be rated positively when the following questions are asked : Does it have focus ? a good tagline ? Does it diverge from other players ? Important insights in all those areas can be gained from throwing the debate on the common floor. This is the best way to find out which aspects have to be dealt with and in what order of priority.

The authors suggest the use of a "strategic canvas" to diagnose the situation in an industry and subsequent opportunities. They recommend going through the following "four actions framework" :

  • Which of the factors that the industry takes for granted should be eliminated ?
  • Which of the factors that the industry takes for granted should be reduced below the industry's standard ?
  • Which of the factors that the industry takes for granted should be raised above the industry's standard ?
  • Which of the factors that the industry takes for granted should be created, that the industry never offered ?

This helps you figuring out what is the current situation and where an unsatisfied demand exists. At this stage of the implementation, on of the most important aspects to bear in mind is the need of a strong coordination in the determination of a potential alternative offer between different departments : marketing (finds an utility, chooses a price), production and accountancy (determine a cost). Here wikis act as interfaces between department that are not organically linked but still have to work closely together. They offer a flexible way of sharing and exchanging up-to-date information on a given project.

By now you came out with an offer that no one could ignore (or at least not enough people so that the market you expect to appear neglects to do so). The last stage may prove particularly tricky, but options to make it more secure do exist.

Getting things done, or dealing with execution as the keystone of the whole edifice

Now that your blue ocean strategy has been designed, you are likely to want to put it at work. This is maybe the more perilous part, for it implies a commitment from the whole organization to get things done properly. On your way to execute your strategy, you may be faced with two distinct sets of problems, and this is what this section deals with.

  1. Organizational hurdles : your company currently operates with a given hierarchical framework, and to move towards your new strategy you may have to reconfigure it. To do so smoothly, a good thing to think about is using your wiki to get people at work on some kind of a parallel way to their usual job. Business as usual, but everybody can spend 30 minutes or one hour a day to explore the ideas, contribute, discuss, assess, interact with others without having to move from their desks. Instead of holding long and useless meetings, you can use this virtual environment to structure the contributions on the definition and important points of your strategy. Instead of turning your whole organigram topsy-turvy, get things done through the network.
  2. Management hurdles : how do you get people to embrace change ? The best way to attain this is by having them contributing to the process of change, and this is precisely what I recommend that you should have been doing from the start. Your new strategy will produce results only if supported by your staff, and if they actively contributed to it this is much more likely to happen. People don't like to be left behind, hence you should not do so when pushing change forward. If you followed the previous steps, your staff is likely to be pushing you in order to find out what the outcome will be. Given human capital is the biggest resource of enterprises in an era of service-focused economy, this is simply great.
  3. Cost : I said 2, and this is a third point, but it is worth mention. The whole solution I've been putting forward throughout this article will not cost you more than $1000 a month in terms of the technical solution, to which some formation cost (presentation seminar) have to be added. Think about what it would have mean to restructure whole departments and build your point of view on the question ...

Some drawbacks may exist and have to be considered

Once again, shortcomings of two king may arise :

  1. Those commonly associated with the use of wikis that I deal with in my previous article.
  2. Information sharing. Clearly, you have to rely on the fact that all the information that is dealt with on your corporate wiki will not end up in the wrong hands. This problem exists in all companies as soon as a new strategy is to be put forward. Think about it this way : if you try to hide and retain information and a leak happens, you will never know what exactly has been leaked, who did it, and so on. If all your information is in the same place (this is reliable for the technical security of wikis is quite good, especially when behind your company's firewall), you are immediately able to compare what is known and what is not. You have a clear view of the situation and are able to react effectively and quickly. Balance this with the numerous advantages of using a wiki, and make your choice. But the shift towards free flows of information inside an enterprise clearly require an evolution f current mindsets and is a challenge to the use of wikis - a challenge worth tackling.

Conclusion

I hope that I have enlightened some of the interesting aspects of shifting to a wiki-backed blue ocean strategy. Even though this creates specific sets of issues to be dealt with, it is definitely a winning approach. The question is, will you choose to sail your corporate wiki towards further blue oceans ?

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC


How do I implement my own corporate wiki ?

First of all, contact us !

What are the main outcomes you should be aware of when thinking about building and starting using your own corporate wiki ? In order to set up a corporate wiki, you will have to deal with some core issues. Here they are :

Evaluating your needs and expectations

This is the key, the point from where everything else proceeds. The main reasons for that are, first, that when you will evaluate the effectiveness of your internal wiki, you will assess it by comparing what you have with what you would have liked to got and, second, that you have to map the current situation before setting your corporate wiki up.

What should you come through at this stage ?

  • What is currently done with others applications (E-mail, Content Management System, Intranet, etc...) and presents shortcomings in their present way of being used ?
  • What would I like to see wiki doing as regards the ineffectiveness of these applications ?
  • What do wikis really have to offer given the way my society is currently structured ?
  • Is my company's culture open enough to embrace an employees-powered information system ?
  • Are they able to matches the specific requirements it faces (e.g., security or regulatory) ?
  • Is it worth it ? Does the will to get things done exists at the moment or should I wait until a more favourable period (i.e., not three days after the budget for next year is sharply planned and closed) ?

All these questions are of particular importance, for they determine whether the solution that you are going to implement really meets needs that you specifically identified or will deceive you in being an useless technological gadget.

Once you think that the need for a wiki is established, a next step follows.

Which technical solution do I chose ?

Now it's decided, you want yours. Great. But how do you get the wikis of your dreams, the application that will solve all you communication and coordination problems (amongst others) ?

You have to decide between different possibilities, each of which offers advantages and inconveniences.

  1. Go for it by yourself. We recommend this solution in only two cases, and you are strongly advised to think it through thoroughly should you decide to select it. Either you are a big company, hence having a strong IT department that should prove able to build the solution you need from an open-source basis and customize it to fit your needs, or, though of a small or medium size, your company includes at least one gifted individual when it comes to programming. The main advantages of this kind of solution are its reduced cost for you do not have to pay a provider, and flexibility for your IT specialists should be able to build what you want them to (although it is acknowledged that you have to master their particular realm of communication to achieve this). The drawbacks are directly linked to the level of skill of your own specialists and may hence be nonexistent, but you will lack the expertise of a specialized firm (don't worry, we are here !).
  2. Ask a Provider. There is a growing amount of them on the market, and counting. Their offer are not yet highly differentiated, though their prices may sometimes differ significantly. When it comes to choosing one, it is as much a question of how you like an interface compared with another, in which aspects is it user friendly, do you get an intuitive grasp of it, do you like the colors ?... Although this may seem quite superficial, these are some of the features that will commend adoption of the wiki by your employees. Once again, we have experienced many of them and can get you through the different philosophies that guided their elaboration and help you chose the one that suits best your company's mindset. Their principal features are quite advanced by now and should be able to fit your company, and providers are adding new ones at an accelerated rhythm, so the one you need will be available soon if it is not already. The last point I ought to mention is the existence of a customer service that knows what technical difficulties you might go through and is able to coordinate the wiki with the other systems used by your company.

By now you have a wiki operating within your company. The question is, will your users follow ? This raise a last issue, no to be forgotten.

Formation and Training

We argue throughout this blog that wikis are easy to use and may help you cut on email overload and tackle many other issues. This is fundamentally true, but so is the case of email though some employees may have experienced difficulties when first having to use that technology. The same can be held of wikis. The other prominent point is that you have to convince people to use it. The two steps are as follows :

  1. Getting people to use the system. Given the particular framework of your company, the expectations you have for your wiki, what are the best ways to make people use it ? Different strategies are relevant here, that you can combine as you wish. They include :
  • Targetting geeks, which mean identify individuals most likely to play with any innovation and let them discover its features, sooner or later they will spread the word and generate curiosity about the application.
  • Relying on the basically open structure of wikis to have people using it : they will be empowered and responsabilized by the fact that they are responsible for editing the content of pages and are expected to share relevant information. Moreover, this creates a feeling of investment which is a motivation to get information up to date.
  • Put an emphasis on the network structure and let people interact together for a while on the structure before actually asking them to perform work-related tasks using it. You will be amazed by the speed at which the use of such a system can spread. (Some further case studies are to be presented and analyzed soon)
  • The fact is that people will be more motivated and willing to use it if managers set the example and are asked to assertively encourage the use of the technology.

  1. Helping those who don't grasp it. Working with wikis requires some familiarization with the concept and practice, and some users may feel lost or simply unfamiliar with the system. This is absolutely normal and should be treated as such, by offering quick formations to the people concerned by the change. These formations should be held at three levels :
  • Basic presentation : for all the employees concerned with the use of a wiki. This is meant to present the features and potential uses of wikis, give a global idea of what it is and how it works. This is a sufficient start and shall be naturally complemented by a period of free experimentation by the employees. Those could take place in the same day : presentation in the morning, workshops in the afternoon.
  • In depth, semi-personalized help : for employees that are strggling with the whole thing. It might take a while to discover the full range of potentialities offered by a wiki, and some peope may start by rejecting the idea. Always remember : an efficiently treated complaint equals a happy customer equals a supporter.
  • For the managers : they have to be able to understand how their daily practice can evolve by using wikis. Some challenges are embedded in this shift and they have to be dealt with, for relationships have to be partly rethought in terms of who controls what in terms of information flows.

We have now dealt with the principal aspects of this last part.

Conclusion

When you will come to starting your coporate wiki, remember the three important steps described above : Analysis of the situation, Technical Implementation, Support of the Staff. They are the sole determinants of whether your wiki solution will perform or not. And I'm quite sure that you'd rather see it perform, don't you ?

Want more ? Stay Tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Focus on Teamworking

In many modern companies, the matrix has become the norm. It means that, most of the time, an employee will have to be part of a team created for a specific purpose (such as completing a project) to perform his daily work. This creates challenges and opportunities that can both be faced and worked out by using a wiki.

Basics of Teamworking

A team is group which members are aware they belong to. It has a definable membership structure (one supposedly knows whether or not he is part of a team) and a shared purpose (in a corporate setting, it will often be a piece of work that has to be completed collectively by members from different departments). This creates a challenge, for it means that a group of people who are unfamiliar with one another will have to behave collectively in a consistent manner in order to build something coherent. And this is why teamworking so often fails, for coordination has to be worked on and does not emerge from parallels behaviours.

Why a wiki makes things easier

When it comes to coordination, a wiki is near from a perfect form of answer. Here is a tool that allow people to work together on the same documents (no problems of shared information), at the same time (you do not have to find out who kept the last version of the proposition draft home). If you are tired of members taking excuse of a bad information and coordination system to get away with a low share of real work, using a wiki is a good way to improve situation.

Decide before acting

One of the main reasons for which teams fail is for they lacked a clearly defined goal to begin with. In order to be successful, a team has to spend time on chosing what are its objectives and how to pursue them. A wiki provides a space where members can review the last version of their objectives and comment on them. Therefore you will not be faced any longer with complaints that the guidelines were not clearly settled or updated. Once the task is properly defined (which will be quicker than with e-mail forwarding or even a meeting for this requires a high amount of organization time), the team can start working.

Roles in teamworking

Most managers met Meredith Belbin's classification of roles in a team at one time or another in their careers. For those who have not came through it yet, Belbin's classification offers a quick orverview of what are the functions that members of a group have to fulfill in order for that group to be succesful. Belbin lists 9 roles :
  • Company worker/implementer : the person who creates system that will produce what the team want
  • Chairman/co-ordinator : checks that everyone's point of view has been taken into account
  • Shaper : provides drive and impetus to the team, keep things going
  • Plant : is a source of creative ideas (sometimes too abstract for the others)
  • Resource investigator : he is the networker of the group and is linked to other groups, he can provide the group with what it needs
  • Monitor evaluator : the person responsible for questioning unfounded assumptions
  • Team worker : take care of relationships within the team
  • Completer finisher : the person that keeps an eye on details
  • Specialist : brings knowledge to the team

Now that these roles have been presented, it becomes clear that a collaborative interface where team members can interact and edit each other work is highly useful : the evaluator can immediatly point out in a comment what has to be worked on, the plant can propose ideas in an area where they will be discussed with others, the shaper can evaluate the level of everyone's work and what has to be done... A wiki offers a space for everyone voice to be heard, which facilitates the role of the coordinator.

Although most of the time individuals have a preference for a particular role, a wiki allows teammembers to play various roles at one time. Peer reviewing is made easier, a space for new ideas is easy to set up, and the strenghts of each member can be tapped into more easily.

A platform for more efficient teamworking

A wiki is not by itself a perfect solution for teamworking. It should rather be considered as a platform that allows usual teamworking issues to be tackled with more efficiency, more quickly. It eases the role of many members by centralizing information and documents and allowing them to coordinate with others effectively. By cutting on email (sometimes as much as 40%) it speeds up a whole process. Coupled with a blog, it can provide current information and replace a mailing list. RSS feeds make it easy to find out what is new and who has contributed recently. Try it, and you won't consider teamworking as a punition any longer.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Why, though I am promoting Wikis, am I writing on a blog ?

Good Question.

And as such, it deserves an in-depth explanation. To address the problem properly, some structural analysis is de rigueur.

What is a Blog ?

Basically, a blog is a web page that one person, its Admin (it might be you), creates using one of the numerous providers available on the web. After a basic setup the process is quite straightforward : you easily publish your writings and get feedback in the form of comments from other users (who can be anybody or a selected bunch of guests). The main advantages of this form of publishing are that the original contribution stays visible while the comments are ranked by date, hence making the identification of contributors and their writings easy. It fits perfectly the needs of an editor or specialist who wants to express his / her opinion on a given topic and see what other's reactions will be. You know who is thinking what at a glance.

The matter, as anyone who wandered along the path of teens (or politicians) blogs will be aware of, is that the contributions are quite ... unstructured. Two discussions may cross another on a given page, the contributions may not be all viewable on the same page, many comments are roughly related to the topic (if not irrelevant) ... To summarize, when it comes to organizing information, a blog matches very closely the perfect definition of a mess.

What Wikis bring to You

Facing a situation where you want to tap into the knowledge of a group of people, you just realized that your idea of creating a blog was ... compromised, to say the least. What are your alternatives ? You could send a global mail and hope that the respondents will answer in a coordinated manner and that their answers will complement each other. You could.

Or you may try to use a wiki. The basic difference between a wiki and a blog is that anyone you chose can edit the pages of your wiki. This means that if you show it to the right persons (and there can be plenty of them, for one would always be surprised by the unexpected resources of knowledge of even a basic crowd) and give them some time, they will come up with their point of view and aggregate it in a coherent manner to those of others. This happens in real time : one can always see what has been written prior to his / her addition, correct what he / she thinks is inexact, organize the page in order to keep it clear and readable and left it for others to participate. Some kind of an automatic correction phenomenon takes place here : as long as the writers are relatively reliable and not merely undesired spammers the very best of available information get extracted and viewable. And the process goes on. Sounds like magic ? Check any Wikipedia article and you will see information most of the time sound, structured and accessible. And the people who wrote it do not even know each other.

Uses and Misuses of Wikis

Although what has just been said about wikis gives a pretty good image of them, there is clearly situations where their use is all but recommended. The LA Times learnt it some time ago, when the paper tried to run an editorial freely editable by anyone on their website. Soon, the page was full of obscenities and even strong admin work did not manage to prevent that. It looks like wikis are weaker than expected, doesn't it ?

The correct answer to such a remark is that you do not use a duster to dry yourself, but a towel. What the journal asked was an opinion, and those can be quite fuzzy -- and disparate to say the least. Add a dose of malevolence and the result all but fails to meet expectations. There is tasks at which wikis are better than others. For example, they are more efficient when it comes to facts than to personal views. Still, their flexibility remains. Look at it this way : with people showing even a slight inclination towards ethical behaviour, it would have worked. You would have ended with a piece of material showing different opinions in a consistent way. The point is, if anyone in your company tries to destroy the work others did on a wiki, they will (almost, for every version of the page is saved for ulterior comparisons) manage to do so. But they will not think about it in the first place, for you would know that they did it. And everyone else would.

Validation by the community

This is the last feature I would like to put an emphasis on. Wiki pages are place virtually everyone can read and contribute to (if allowed). In a group such as a company, everyone has a reputation to build and protect. Writing and contributing to a corporate wiki becomes part of that, for the quality of what you write will be appreciated by everybody. So, in the context of a company, you get all the advantages : reservoir of common knowledge (the fact that Peter who knew everything about the procedure X goes on retirement matters less since he wrote extensively about it), opportunity to assess the competencies of your staff...

What should you remember ?

Fundamentally, wikis and blogs are tools that complement each other, even though you could see blogs as a mere variation on wikis. Their combined possibilities are impressive (e.g., you can work on intern with a wiki and communicate externally with your blog, which is what WikiBC is currently doing). As long as you do not use one for the other, you are sure a winner.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Are You Wiki ?

What is that supposed to be ?

Some new Internet Extravaganza ? The next nightmare you will live when your children will ask you whether they are allowed to start one ?

Internet is innovative. As you know well if you felt even a tiny amount of dejà-vu when you were reading the previous sentences, this can sometimes lead to misunderstandings, or a feeling that everything goes too fast. This is quite true. New products appear on a regular basis and keeping up to date can sometimes look like a constant struggle. And that is why the aim of this blog will be to present a new way of communicating by using IT means off expression that is more than likely to take-off widely in the years to come.

In fact, in some ways its spread has already started. Wikis are appearing in many companies and there is no surprise here, for one of the main advantages they provide is about cutting off a frenzy of unnecessary e-mails and transforming it into an useful and readily exploitable source of information.

Think about this : instead of, say, 10 of 15 mailboxes closed to each others where the same mail is present in various states of advancement, updated (- or not, for who knows whether the accountancy department did not send a mail to the management team about those marketing expenses...), put a single web page. A web page that any involved person could edit and keep relevant. Where three linked discussions are at last put in the same place. Where information flows and get available. Where you can instantly tap into the knowledge of colleagues not overloaded with emails. Where ...

Now stop thinking. This web page exists, and it is called a wiki (for the record, the name comes from an Hawaiian word meaning "quick"). You may certainly have heard of Wikipedia, the online Encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and that covers an unbelievable range of topics with an accuracy that has not yet been proved significantly faulty? You can do the same thing within the boundaries of your company. Get everyone to contribute to the common knowledge, assess the relevance of ideas, and maybe even see your reborn Intranet while you are still alive (even if it is difficult to believe, this has already happened in many societies around the world).

Do you feel interested ? The best is still to come. Wikis are the most efficient ever tools when it comes to team-working. They are hosted on an external server and necessitate nothing else that any web-browser to be accessed, which means that you can work on them from everywhere, at any time. You will not have to wonder any longer about coordinating with your team during your next week-long business trip to Sydney. Real-time means that whatever modification you make appears instantly and can be taken into account by other people.

And, last but not least, think about building consensus with your 15 mailboxes (and as much contradictory opinions) ? Here everyone can argue his position in open ground, and only those who resist the careful examination of everyone subsists (no more "sorry, I did not get your last mail" when a disastrous launch strategy is planned). Dialogue has replaced arbitrary behaviour.
And the final written piece you get is almost ready for exploitation (no new quarrels arising during the formatting process).

These are some of the most prominent features that you can expect from wikis. It might be time to start trying them, shouldn't you ?


Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC