The success of enterprise-wide collaboration which is enabled by Enterprise Social Networks (popularly known as ESNs) is been debated long. There is a bandwagon of promoters of ESNs who talk about intangible and even tangible benefits, and have bullish predictions. On the other hand, many CIOs are not so much excited, and have voted the social tools as the most overhyped technology of 2013 (reference).
Why is there so much variation?
It turns out that while some companies are able to make ESN work for them, many others fail. Those who fail either keep trying or write it off (at least for some time).
With the hope that understanding the patterns of failure may guard a company against those, the common ones are enlisted below.
1. The “Feature-heaviness” Antipattern
The CEO wants the organization to be cutting edge (sometimes due to the hype surrounding ESN) and a small group gets the responsibilty to choose the enterprise collaboration tool. The group creates a long list of features (wiki for something, discussion forum for something else, task management for yet another thing etc), and recommends a tool which is the most feature rich. The company ends up spending high amount of money in the product and expensive consultancy that is needed to configure the product.
Further, the organization finds it tough to get its employees use the tool because of its complexity (see the Confusion anti-pattern), and the implementation fails. Bertrard Duperrin warns organization against taking such feature-centric approach (reference).
2. The “Overuse” Antipattern
With a zeal, a collaboration tool gets adopted. Everyone puts in a lot of updates and there is a lot of interaction. People are happy about the successful implementation and some examples of collaboration happening over the platform are seen as success signs. The conversations on the platform start slipping into a more casual mode, and signal-to-noise ratio starts going down. A realization slowly dawns that people are spending way too much time with the collaboration tool and they get less time for work. By this time, the tool is so much embedded into organization’s work patterns that it could be too late to return.
3. The “Conflict” Antipattern
CEO asks the employees to use a tool and the employees start using it. Many people from different departments try to figure out the tool and make the best use of it for themselves and their departments. When these efforts are not coordinated, expectation mismatch between the departments emerges after a while. If not corrected in time, this results in fragmentation in the way it is used and ultimately the whole purpose of using a common platform is lost.
4. The “Confusion” Antipattern
The product features create a confusion in the minds of end users. For example, when a user wants to add a piece of knowledge, she gets confused whether she should create a discussion in the discussion forum or create a wiki page. In the absence of clear guidelines, the users would use their own discretion which will eventually lead to the “conflict” antipattern. The confusion would create a heterogeneous use of the tool and ultimately the exercise becomes fruitless.
5. The “Disinterest” Antipattern
The CEO asks a team to evaluate a product. Unless there is a committed product champion whose KRA aligns with the product use, the product remains unused. The people say they want to evaluate it, but they never find time to do so. Without a commitment from anyone and zero push from top management, the steam runs out.
Many times it happens because nobody wants to take the initiative. Everyone wants someone else to start, or maybe that the tool would bring about some magical improvements on its own. It doesn’t, and the implementation dies out.
6. The “Misfit” Antipattern
Some times, the failure is attributed to a misfit between the organizational culture and the tool. Many experts profess that the “social” effect needs a near flat structure in an organization, and no topic should be a taboo. Many organizations find it difficult or impractical to make these changes. Many times, the social principles seem to contrast with something that is deeply ingrained into the organizational culture.
When misfit occurs, the quality of discussions / updates that happen over the ESN is perceived as low, and they seem to help no one. For some time, companies push the implementation with the hope that something may come out. But eventually, in absence of any good benefits, the implementation dies. The two sides (one promoting change in company culture and the other opposing it) keep debating endlessly.
Have you seen these antipatterns around you, or know some more? Please add your comments below.