How do you develop technology team

A colleague has asked an interesting question and I’d like some help answering.

The question:

I am working with one of our development teams on their needs/development plans and I wanted to bring external best practices in this area.Do you have any examples (or theory /articles) on how to develop effectively developers / technology teams?

Any ideas, or examples of organisations who are using new and innovative approaches to this task

Unblock Access – ‘Social’ is Key to Improving Performance

The issue of whether an organisation blocks or bans access to social media platforms has always been an interesting area. When speaking to colleagues in other councils who are not able to access, a common reason why access is blocked is due to a perceived fear that staff will simply waste time “messing about” or “chatting online”. It has been a personal desire to look for an approach which directly links the success of an organisation to the use of or at least access to social tools.

Without having any direct evidence – I’ve had to look to theoretical models and frameworks which help to explain the relationships between an organisations performance and the ability of staff to use and engage with social software, social media, enterprise 2.0, social business or whatever the current trend is for naming the variety of tools available.

Last week however a key part of the puzzle presented itself, in the form of a set of slides which I linked to in my previous post by Richard Veryard.

This is my current view is the all public sectors organisations need to unblock access to all social tools (external), and promote the use of social tools (internally) otherwise they restrict and reduce the chance for the organisation to improve its performance.

Given the current financial and organisational pressures facing the whole public sector, improving performance would be a key priority. The very least we would all agree that reducing barriers to improving performance should be a priority. This is where I now firmly believe that Social is the key to improving organisational performance.

I’ll try to give some context to my thinking by referring to some of the slides that Richard posted. I apologise in advance for some of the complexity in the following paragraphs  – believe me I have tried to keep it as simple as possible without losing the meaning 🙂

In “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations”, my observations and interpretation of some of his slides are as follows:

Slide 5 – Cognition only makes sense for individuals
As individuals we seek out data/information, in doing this activity we essentially bring a meaning to that data/information and in turn provide the interpretation  and therefore we create and often share an understanding.
Organisations can not perform the same tasks, as organisations can only aggregates the collective view of all people within the organisation by bringing together  – perception, knowledge, learning and intelligence. This in the past has been restricted either to formal systems which require facts and statistics and would not include people’s views and opinions. The social element to an organisation would be in the informal social networks facilitated by water coolers and coffee machines.

Slide 7 – The illusion of individual performance
Individuals perform tasks which are supported by a variety of systems, the slide highlights 3 examples, but in a public sector context, this is even more relevant. For example an individual local government officer has a complex system environment, which could include Peers, Press and Media, local demographic, local political influence, national political influence, training, policy framework etc.

Essentially an individuals performance is the result of the ‘systems’ own restrictions and ability to achieve and facilitate outcomes.

So what I’m thinking in relation to this is that when an organisation restricts the “social” element within it, it actually restricts the ability of the system and the individual to achieve better outcomes. By providing “social” tools the organisation gains access to a greater organisational intelligence. I believe that the Knowledge Hub would in fact allow the public sector organisational intelligence to grow and in turn help facilitate better outcomes across the whole sector.

Slide 20 – Intelligence Strategy
In my post Move aside Intranet, here comes the super powered Extranet I share the vision for my authorities intranet/extranet and considering this new viewpoint, what that is contributing to is in fact the organisations Intelligence Strategy. The main benefit of integrating the Knowledge Hub into the core infrastructure of the council is the increased connections that it provides for each individual member of staff. It will provide them with a larger organisational intelligence system and my conclusion would be that this contributes directly to better outcomes for citizens and improved services.

In the second set of slides “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” – I have thought about the wider linkages to a range of core business activities and capabilities which are and will become more critical in public sector environments even if they choose to adopt a commissioning agenda.

Slide 23 – Tools for organisational intelligence
The key challenge for publica sector organisations are not related to individual issues such as business intelligence, social networking, knowledge management and even customer relationship management (CRM), but are in fact how you plan and architect the links between these kinds of tools to achieve and facilitate organisational intelligence.

So the main takeaway for me is that ICT can directly improve the performance and intelligence of an organisation – however an organisations architecture needs to be designed with this outcome in mind otherwise you will fail to deliver the benefits.

Conclusion

I would recommend that any public sector organisation who is blocking access rethink that decision and consider how there organisation facilitates organisational intelligence and improved performance.

On a practical level, staff who abuse access should still be subject to existing policies around employee code of conduct – but the potential for a whole organisation to improve its performance and increase its intelligence far outweighs the risk of one individual mis-using an internet connection, which they can also do via their personal mobile phone.

Why can’t Online be more like Offline

As I said in my previous post I have spent a bit of time cleansing my social networks to make them work better for me and hopefully enable me to engage with them more often and in more appropriate ways.

The underlining issue for me is that unless the social networks and social media tools I use can actually blend into my life and activities then I’m unlikely to engage with them (selfish I know but how different am I to most people) – this is a recent change of tact for me as I used to love playing with new networks and seeing their potential benefits and uses. But my available time has reduced dramatically over the last few months due to a number of reasons and I am finding that I simply don’t have the time to engage with some social networks because they take too much effort to interact with and they don’t always contain the people or connections I need in a given situation.

A couple of examples being Gowalla and Foursquare – I used to enjoy checking in and finding out who was either in the same location or who I’d missed etc, but now I simply don’t bother – lazy perhaps. This doesn’t mean that Location Based Social networks aren’t useful – they are, but the mass public are using them yet and not enough of my friends or groups I connect with are using them often enough to justify the investment of time – I no longer have the time to simply find out what loose connections were or are doing. But I believe there is something a bit more fundamental to this feeling.

My general lack of available time leads to less engagement with a variety of “fringe” social networks and has made me think about those networks which offer me most value and that in turn lead to the cleansing exercise – as my involvement in these networks has to deliver value for me or I’ll simply drop out of them. In terms of location features, a lack of take-up amongst my Facebook connections means that Facebook places hasn’t even attracted my time yet?

It also poses another issue which I only really thought about recently when I bought my wife a new iPod Touch. If as a fanboy of social networks and social media in general I struggle to engage with some of these sites then what is the impact on general public. My wife’s use of Facebook has increased since she got the iPod touch, my view on this is that it is easier for her to engage with then waiting for the PC to start-up and then access the browser and most, if not all of her connections are on that network.

I think the challenge and issue I was trying to solve with the cleansing exercise is captured in the following very long but surprising easy to digest presentation by Paul Adams:

“I don’t have a single bucket of friends”

I am however connected to a variety of  people who make up groups each with a different identity and each with a different purpose and within those groups I have different relationships with people – strong ties, weak ties and temporary ties.  (the definition of these is provided within the presentation below)

This is exactly how my offline life is – a series of connections to groups and relationships all separated by boundaries of one form or another and generally they don’t overlap. Due to my commitments  – my family + my full-time employment + my part-time employment + being a school governor – managing these relationships, boundaries and connections online requires working harder than I do offline – surely this isn’t supposed to be like this!.  I know that managing my networks in the way I have decided will enable me to create some aspect of separation but not to the level that reduces my overhead in managing my online presence.

I have made use of Facebook lists to provide a level of additional privacy, but will need to review after my cleansing exercise. But other networks don’t really provide the same features, and this is why I have decided to use each network in the way outlined in my previous post.

Seeing this presentation made me feel a bit better because it wasn’t down to me not using the networks properly but because there is simply no social network that allows me to do this.  I know we all need to grapple with the blurring of our lives, but sometimes boundaries are their for a reason and we need support mechanisms to maintain these boundaries should we choose to.  This is often one of the barriers that people state to me when not engaging with social media within the workplace. People are concerned that aspects of their lives will be shared with people who they simply don’t want to share it with.

REVISED – Social Media Policy and Guidance

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

In May last year i published the councils first version of our Social Media Policy and Guidance. Since then we have reviewed them and have updated them to focus more on achieving business benefit then simply taking advantage of social media tools like twitter, facebook you tube etc.

The revision is the result of additional learning, continued development and the input from a wider group of people then the original and includes the following:

  • Head of Corporate Communications
  • Head of ICT
  • Head of Strategic Intelligence
  • Directorate Business Managers

We have split the new policy and guidance into 4 parts and I will post them individually but link to them from this post.

  1. Social Media Policy
  2. Guidance – Section 1 – Personal and Professional responsibilities
  3. Guidance  – Section 2 – Guidance and tips on using social media in different scenarios
  4. Guidance – Section 3 – Key things to consider before getting involved and useful contacts

As before, feel free to adapt but please acknowledge the source.

Social Media Policy

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

Social Media Policy

Devon County Council is committed to making the best use of all available technology and innovation to improve the way we do business. This includes using all reasonable and cost-effective means to improve the way we communicate, reach out and interact with the different communities we serve.

‘Social media‘ is the term commonly given to web-based tools which allow users to interact with each other in some way – by sharing information, opinions, knowledge and interests online. As the name implies, social media involves the building of online communities or networks to encourage participation and engagement.

This includes blogs, message boards, social networking websites (such as facebook, twitter, bebo, MySpace), content sharing websites (such as flickr, YouTube) and many other similar online channels.

These platforms open up many new and exciting opportunities. However, the practical application of such technology by councils is in its infancy and there are many potential issues to consider – both as individual employees and as an organisation.

To avoid major mistakes and turning a well meant social media experiment into a reputational disaster it is important that we manage any potential risks through a common-sense approach and framework as well as proactively monitoring the development of such applications.

These guidelines aim to provide managers and individual employees with information to consider before participating in or developing any new social media application and to help them get the best out of the tools available whilst maintaining a safe professional environment  and protecting themselves as well as the organisation.