Yesterday was the second day for a meeting with a community of practice of people interested in network effectiveness convened by Monitor Institute. I learned so much and quickly wanted to share a few insights.
I heard first hand from Eugene Eric Kim about strategic planning at Wikipedia. One of my favorite quotes: "At the end of the day, networks are piles of people.”
As he shared the story, I had some questions about weaving offline/online collaboration within networks.
We most typically think of the offline/online as a sequence somewhat like this:
- Small group meets face-to-face - builds trust
- Uses online space to continue work inbetween face-to-face meetings
I started thinking about how a lot of the online collaboration was taking place on the social web is between people who had never met each other and after they work together may meet each other. In my own experience, I've connected and collaborated with people online who I had never met face-to-face and these have been pretty rich experiences. I've also worked in the other direction - starting with a known group meeting face-to-face and then incorporating online tools to deepen or further our work.
So, it raised some questions in my mind:
- What is unique about online collaboration that begins online before a face-to-face meeting?
- Can it be effective without ever meeting or do you need that face-to-face to build trust? Does that have to happen first?
- How can you effectively weave offline/online work in a network? Is it different depending on the intention or structure of the network?
- What are the nuances?
Eugene Eric Kim's answer: No difference between weaving networks face to face and weaving networks online. But space does matter, and affects how you interact with people. We can have the power to shape the space. You can build trusting relationships on line, not just face to face. What we need to catalyze networks is conversations.
I tweeted some of his points using the #networkf and there was an interesting discussion with people not in the room. Eugene Eric Kim pointed to the presentation above, plus this post further explaining online/offline collaboration differences.
He argues the point that trusting, meaningful relationships are possible online. Online collaboration can be just as effective as face-to-face. I'm thinking it is another one of the contextual elements you have to look at - and perhaps a matter of sequencing. Eugene's main points are:
- Artifacts are critical for effective collaboration. We use them all the time in face-to-face collaboration, and they usually work the same way face-to-face as they do online. For example, the best online brainstorming tools apply the same principles as the best face-to-face brainstorming processes using a whiteboard or Post-Its. Online collaboration is unique in that every interaction results in an artifact. That doesn’t make it inherently better, as the default artifact isn’t necessarily the best. But, this property leads to the second point, which is that…
- Online enables scale. Because you’re working in a medium that is inherently replicable and shareable and where geographical limitations do not apply, you can potentially reach a much larger audience. The key word is potential. Actually attaining scale online is a huge challenge, and how you frame that goal is critical. Size, for example, may not be as important as diversity.
- Face-to-face buys you attention. You cannot guarantee people’s presence (in the metaphysical sense) online, and that makes it hard to tackle certain types of problems. Getting that level of focused attention is possible, but the cost of doing it online is higher. This is the most important point, and understanding the nuances of it determines whether or not your collaborative strategy will be effective