Working Across Boundaries

June 16, 2013 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

ImageIn his Jun 2, 2013 blog post, Chess Media analyst and author Jacob Morgan asks: How Open is Too Open? He asks "Would you be comfortable working in an all glass building where people can see everything you do and every move you make?" Jacob outlines the benefits of transparency: "Keep everyone on the same page; Build trust and fostering better relationships; Allow employees (and customers) to contribute ideas and value when they see the opportunity to do so." Jacob recognizes that a balance needs to be struck, but not being transparent enough may do more harm than good. He ask: "How open is too open?" I agree with the benefits Jacob outlines, and believe the answer to Jacob's question depends on the answer to a critical question: "Transparency for what purpose?" I'll start the ball rolling in with this post, including some real-life customer examples.

For example, if you work for a consulting (or law) firm, your clients have a strong, natural expectation that their work with the firm will be kept private from other clients, even if client work is more broadly shared internally among members of the firm. Some work within the firm may be more closely held for good reason - ranging from employee health records to Board meeting minutes. I believe it's a mistake to limit collaboration to work that must be visible by all members of the firm. I also believe it's extremely valuable to work with external clients, suppliers, and partners as well internal teams, within and across necessary and natural boundaries. The question I'd like to discuss is: "How do you balance transparency, boundaries, and the need to work across boundaries?"

Jacob recognizes that a balance needs to be struck, and uses an analogy that compares a glass building vesus "a regular building that just doesn't have locked doors."

"I do believe that organizations need to be much more open and transparent but there’s a balance that needs to be struck here. There’s a big difference between showing everything to everyone vs making things open to people should they want to see it. To use an analogy it’s the difference between constructing a glass building vs constructing a regular building that just doesn’t have locked doors." - How Open is Too Open?

I'd say "very few locked doors, where needed to get work done, particularly with external stakeholders."

In an early Three Places for People blog post, I use a similar analogy:

"Great architects of physical places know that people bring expectations and norms about the kind of behavior that's appropriate and enjoyable to any physical space. Architects are skillful in designing spaces to match their clients desires and expectations by providing cues that are easy to perceive and appropriate for the intended purpose, but a lot of the norms of the same physical space become clear only from social context.

If you walk into a conference room with a group of people you don't know talking quietly around a table - and someone closes the door behind you - you'll likely speak and act differently than if you walk into the same room with people you know laughing, eating and drinking. If you walk into a theater you'll probably seat yourself quietly in the audience rather than striding onto the stage (see the Re-Placing Space reference).

What fascinates me about social software is how we're learning to create places with perceived affordances - features and user models - that seem natural for different purposes and intentions. I use Facebook, Traction Software's TeamPage server, and Twitter as three separate places: my neighborhood, my workplace, and the public commons I like to use." - Three Places for People

One Traction TeamPage customer matches the consulting firm / client example precisely. The firm is near the top of the list of 100 global firms in their market. They use separate TeamPage spaces for each client, but allow members of the consulting firm to work across all client spaces. Members of the firm use TeamPage's project, task, milestone or client space dashboards to focus, and can also step back to a bird's eye view across all activity that they are permitted to see, organized by Space or by Person (with activity stream, project, task and milestone tabs on each individual's Profile). See Action Tracking, Project and Case Management in TeamPage

Another Traction TeamPage customer provides services to customers worldwide, with over 5,000 employees operating in over 150 locations and 75 countries. The firm uses TeamPage to get new clients onboard; author and share client and location specific procedures; track and communicate status including response to weather conditions and other forces that require changes to planned procedures. Shared access to procedures, notifications, and changes build strong business relationships that are a competitive advantage for the firm. Tens of thousands of complicated procedures need to be constantly changed and reviewed in near real time by both the firm and clients. The shared procedures are the core operating plan for the firm and the basis for everything the client values and pays for. TeamPage dashboards, notification, action tracking and search provide simple, reliable and secure access for each client, while allowing members of the firm to maintain global awareness, diving into any project, task, or space to quickly resolve an issue or come up to speed, see Deep Search.

In summary, I believe there's no reason to settle for a collaboration and action tracking solution that only handles internal collaboration, or assumes that everything happens in a building with glass walls and no doors. Real business value and sustainable competitive advantage often depends on working easily within and across boundaries that need to be in place to do business.


The Work Graph Model: TeamPage style - Working with internal and external teams

Borders, Spaces, and Places - Walks through specific examples of boundaries and boundary crossing activity

Explaining Twitter - One of Three Places for People - About the social architecture of three places: 1) a public commons (like Twitter); 2) a place for friends and family (like Facebook); 3) a place where you work (for me, Traction Software's TeamPage server).

Intertwingled Work - Working across siloed systems and boundaries set up to meet business purposes - like the consulting firm client example.

A Circle is not a Space - How Google+ circles make it possible to share individual conversations with a list of circles each individual controls (later extended to groups) versus sharing work within one or more spaces. Some distinctions are important to understand when you want to handle collaboration for a business or other purpose over an extended period of time.