Who's on Your Team ?
Web-based social software makes it possible for people to discover connections and stay in touch on a global scale without imposing undue work on either the sender or receiver of information - unlike email, face to face meetings, or any other medium in human history. In Who’s on Your Team? Enterprise 2.0 and Team Boundaries Larry Irons discusses a 2002 study on distributed work that's relevant for Enterprise 2.0 collaboration. The study found that members of geographically distributed teams have a fuzzy notion the boundaries of their team (who was in, who was out) while collocated teams rarely disagreed. Larry suggests that wiki style collaboration and social networking will make team boundaries fuzzier - and that's a good thing.
Prof Andrew McAfee makes a similar point with his bullseye model which characterizes strong, weak, and potential ties between knowledge workers and their colleagues in an enterprise. McAfee suggests that one value of social software is making it easier to convert potential ties to strong or week ties, and stay on top of what's happening in an extended network.
The situation gets even more interesting when you examine how the desire to make new Connections plays with the notion of borders and boundaries where there's a natural (or legal) expectation of privacy.
For example - if you work for a law firm there's a reasonable - and legal - expectation that only the client and members of the firm have access to the collaborative space reserved for work with each specific client. But a member of the firm may be working with many different clients at the same time, and need to keep on top of many external engagements - and a host of internal engagements that are shared within the law firm but invisible to all clients.
This "hub and spoke" collaboration pattern is common for business. If your company builds complex, customized products - like robotic systems sold to manufacturers - it's valuable to have separate collaboration spaces that connect each customer and your internal product development, sales and marketing team. Everyone on the inside has a bird's eye view across all customer specific work. Each customer sees a dedicated collaboration space for private working communication - and can also read or participate in spaces that you intentionally open to all your customers or the public Web.
Some boundaries are firm and reliable - other boundaries need to become fuzzy or invisible - depending on who you are. See Borders, Spaces and Places for some additional thoughts and examples.