Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

I was curious to discover whether wikis are acting as more than just a technology enabler for information dissemination within organisations, and if they could serve a deeper function of facilitating changes to culture and stimulating organisational learning practices.

Consequently, I asked survey repondents and interviewees (i) what factors facilitate collaboration in the company, and (ii) whether those factors were prerequisites for successful wiki implementations or if wikis could be used as a means to develop better collaborative work practices. Common threads throughout the responses to (i) highlighted the need for organization-wide communications, access to/sharing of information/knowledge and a willingness to contribute/collaborate. In respect of (ii) views diverged. Some interviewees considered that, whilst wikis can provide a solution to the problem of locating information, they simply support existing information sharing/communication practices, since politics and cultural issues often hinder wiki usage. However, others considered that wikis encourage transparency by “questioning how people are thinking” and “can be used to increase awareness of people’s contribution to the workplace”.

Ross Mayfield of SocialText concurred with the latter view stating that “the best thing a wiki can do is to make transparent an existing culture. It can change culture overtime but if you try to introduce it into a controlling environment too quickly the entire notion of it will get slapped down”. That emphasizes the importance of ‘managing’ wikis’ incremental implementation so as to build towards a supportive user-community.

I also asked survey respondents to characterize their companies before and after the wiki implementation based on factors derived from the literature review. The overall picture is one of change towards ‘learning organisation’ characteristics (even if only slight in some areas). The greatest shifts occurred in relation to the level of information flows and new ideas being sought/tried, and people’s willingness to help one another carry out work. These changes appear to have occurred in a relatively short timeframe, with 47% of wiki installations being under a year-old. Most respondents considered that the wiki implementation has a minor (27.72%) to moderate (30.69%) impact in shaping companies’ characteristics.

Furthermore, the apparent benefits to be gained from wiki implementations in relatively short periods seem to have rather modest barriers/disadvantages, where survey respondents considered time to contribute (11.67% of responses), and reliance on email (11.67%) to be more significant barriers to wiki usage than culture (9.05%) and lack of managerial support (7.14%). That maybe partly attributable to the climate of openness and trust, and other learning characteristics, which organisations were considered to possess prior to the wiki implementation.

Consequently, the evidence suggests that wikis have improved organisational information flow, enabled people to work/communicate more efficiently and effectively, learn from past experience and share knowledge/ideas, in organizational contexts which are not averse to collaboration and learning. Accordingly, wikis have provided platforms for collaborative and emergent behaviour, which could not satisfactorily proceed through existing technology.

Time will tell whether the reported changes in certain organizational learning characteristics continue to grow and become more pronounced as wikis mature. Certainly, the level of grassroots’ implementations, facilitation and organic growth, illustrate instances of people at operational levels challenging mindsets regarding work practices and the utility of existing systems, experimenting with new solutions and adopting individual/team practices (including peer-to-peer learning) conducive to double-loop learning.

To grow this behaviour across the company and tap people’s “massive undeveloped potential” (Moss-Jones (2005)), management must be more alert to those initiatives and address barriers which inhibit wiki use. To that end, undertaking activities proposed in the wiki management cycle offers managers opportunities to engage in organizational learning practices and develop corresponding capabilities.

So, whilst there is much more to organizational learning and much more than can be supported by wikis alone, I think their use/management maybe informed by practices associated with the ‘learning organisation’ which in turn may facilitate changes to culture and stimulate organisational learning practices, making wikis more than a mere technological enabler for wider information dissemination.


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Having survey 102 companies, and interviewed 10 companies and 9 consultants, I compiled the following recommendations regarding the management of wikis in business:

1. For new implementations, consider the needs to be addressed/capabilities to be developed, how people currently work and changes that maybe necessary to routines/behaviours, as well as the nature of the culture, structure and other organisational subsystems, which initially will have to be worked within whilst gradual change is encouraged. For existing implementations, evaluate their impact (if any) on the foregoing factors, and who is (and is not) using wikis and why (including issues users have in respect of wikis and their work processes).

2. View the implementation as a change process and allow for planned emergence during adoption and growth/maintenance, and encourage evaluation throughout.

3. Involve a broad cross-section of people in the definition of flexible (collaboration) goals, and the consideration of how the wiki should be designed and people’s behaviour altered to (better) meet identified needs. Use those goals to guide and evaluate how well the needs are being met.

4. Consider the tasks being undertaken and the level of user competence when deciding whether some flexible structures/templates would help to avoid the wiki appearing chaotic and content being hard-to-find, as people learn how to create their own structure/maintain content.

5. Identify key ‘technical’ users (with needs corresponding to those identified) who can form pilot groups, or who can expand wiki usage to other areas/projects. Encourage experimentation to discover how the wiki can be used to best suit their needs and uncover issues with its design, integration with existing tools and/or impact on other subsystems.

6. Don’t rely solely on the self-motivation of the initial adopter groups. Develop and support good practices from the outset by supplementing self-learning with targeted training and best practice guidelines to help users understand the goals and wiki practices necessary to facilitate more effective/efficient work.

7. Recognise that later adopters may need greater support helping them understand how to use the wiki and work more collaboratively. Engage existing users in this process to grow the wiki organically. Focus on and demonstrate the uses/benefits of wikis’ use for everyday work (with knowledge collection being a by-product of wiki usage rather than an end in itself).

8. Allow people time to develop their skills with the wiki and gradually move them away from use of inefficient tools by constantly and subtly promoting its use (e.g. through moving tasks/information onto the wiki, sending people links/referring people to wiki pages and involving people in projects using wikis). However, support different communication styles and recognise that using a wiki may not be suitable in certain circumstances.

9. Encourage user delegation, and rotation of, a wiki gardening role to people within their respective communities of practice, whilst developing more dispersed habitual gardening practices amongst users.

10. Be alert to how people are using the wiki and seek feedback continuously to learn how people can best be supported in their work. Ensure that any measures used during the evaluation process are aligned with the needs which are driving the implementation. Assess/refine the implementation goals, process and wiki itself even if that means relying on soft data.


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