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Archive for October, 2007

Numerous blogs, industry and academic literature reflect the considerable correlation between the concepts related to the adoption of innovations, development of a ‘learning organisation’ and successful management of wikis in business, including:

  • development of a receptive culture and managerial support;
  • role of leaders in promoting interaction, dialogue and feedback;
  • top-down and bottom-up approaches to learning and management;
  • widely shared vision for what is required, and the teamwork, adaptiveness and creativity necessary to advance that vision.

A little while back there was an interesting debate which sparked considerable comment about the ability of social software/Web 2.0 to effect organisational change. In other words, whether Web 2.0 technologies can act as more than a mere technology enabler for wider information dissemination/communication in organisations and their use/management stimulate organisational learning practices and culture change.

One school thought maintains that Web 2.0 (including wikis, blogs, bookmark managers and network/micro-blogging services) will not address or substantially change the barriers that prevent organisational learning e.g. free flow of knowledge, lack of trust, missing incentives, power differentials, unsupportive cultures and the general busyness of employees (Davenport) . The other school (including McAfee, Suarez and Hinchcliffe) recognises that technology by itself won’t resolve the dilemma, but view the increasing use of Web 2.0 as a catalyst for change.

Proponents of the latter view consider Web 2.0 to be a radical departure from previous generations of collaboration/knowledge management tools, since they are easy to learn, deploy and use, giving people the ability to self-organise and collaborate in ways which best suit their needs. They consider that well-executed wiki adoption and management, couples with a growing need for businesses to focus on supporting innovation/collaboration, will encourage organisational learning.

That debate fed a second string to my research, i.e. the extent to which use/management of wikis may contribute to improved organisational communication and collaboration making them potentially useful tools for encouraging practices associated with the ‘learning organisation’. It also highlights the twin-edged nature of the problem, since using a wiki effectively in the workplace may itself depend on the extent to which the organisation is able to cope with complexity/change, learn and continuously improve.

Consequently, since the clear message is that implementing wikis (and any Web 2.0 technology) is as much about understanding organisational culture, learning, collaboration practices and human behaviour as it is about the technology itself, I also investigated:

  1. how themes of the ‘learning organisation’ can aid and be reflected in the management of wikis in business; and
  2. the extent to which such management can in turn encourage organisational learning and foster collaborative behaviour.

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Increasingly, wikis are being implemented in businesses to address concerns with knowledge management, collaboration practices and limitations of existing systems, and to:

  • Reduce email traffic;
  • Provide a common platform (rather than a private channel) for collecting, organising and sharing knowledge and experience of all stakeholders;
  • Provide a flexible tool adaptable to a range of uses including knowledge repository, project/action tracking and intranet;
  • Facilitate swifter more widespread and effective communication.

However, their use in the workplace maybe inhibited for a variety of reasons including:

  • Potential lack of clear purpose since wikis may not replace existing systems or processes;
  • Lack of content or too much unmanageable content if not refactored (i.e. editing/organising pages);
  • Bureaucratic command-and-control organizational (sub-) culture(s) and structure which stifle knowledge sharing, openness and trust;
  • Risk of abandonment if users do not perceive a clear need for, or benefit from using, wikis or other barriers to their use are not overcome.

Those difficulties raise specific issues about wikis’ management and use, the effect of organisational context (i.e. structure and culture) on wiki uptake, and more generic issues about adoption of innovations. Similarly, a business’s ability to collaborate effectively reflects issues at the heart of technology management, namely improving the effectiveness of an organisation and its people through the application of concepts and techniques for operating, improving and integrating an organisation’s systems, and introducing innovatory systems.

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As part of my MBA in Technology Management with the Open University Business School, Milton Keynes, UK I have been researching the use and management of wikis in business. During my research I set up a research wiki to record various elements of the research, including the survey, interviews, findings, conclusions and recommendations. You can read more about my research in the Final Report – Managing Wikis in Business – September 2007

Here’s a snapshot of what the Report covers and concludes:

The study investigates how businesses can manage wikis to facilitate collaboration in the workplace. In doing so, it describes a process framework for managing wiki implementations and analyses how ‘learning organisation’ themes can aid in that process. It also considers whether a wiki can act as more than a mere technological enabler for wider information dissemination, by providing an independent mechanism whose management and widespread use can encourage organisational learning.

Based on interviews and responses to a web-based survey, this study found that wikis are relatively new phenomena in businesses, whose use, management and growth, to date, have been dependent largely on grassroots initiatives of self-motivated technical users. Those users are typically technologically familiar, more venturesome, well-networked and able to cope with uncertainty during early adoption stages.

However, to sustain wiki-usage and grow it to other user groups more active/responsive managerial support is required to help develop a shared understanding of, and the skills/practices required for, wiki usage, and to overcome key barriers to wiki adoption. Furthermore, each stage of the wiki management cycle should be informed by, and provides opportunities to engage in, organisational learning practices, involving systems thinking, leadership, learning, teamwork and feedback.

It also indicates that wikis have provided platforms for collaborative and emergent behaviour, enabling people to work/communicate more efficiently and effectively, learn from past experience and share knowledge/ideas in organisational contexts that are not averse to collaboration. Whilst it has not been possible to conclude whether changes to organisational learning characteristics have resulted from wikis’ fostering of such collaborative/emergent behaviour, or will become more pronounced as wikis mature, it does highlight scope for longitudinal research in this area.

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