In early 2015, the IT department of Belgian bank KBC group conducted an experiment in working out loud. It was called “tWEEThetMEE”, a name that combines two Dutch phrases: “tweet het” (tweet it), and “weet het mee” (know it also) – a call both to publish information and to learn from others.
The SharePoint newsfeed was used for this experiment, and since Sharepoint was still new to the organization, a lot of effort was put into understanding the tool and teaching how to use it.
The initial three-week experiment involved 17 people in one ICT department. The rules were simple:
- Tweet! (use SharePoint newsfeed/microblogs)
- Ask questions (use SharePoint discussions)
- Blog about your day
- Blog about your week
- Comment on or reply to each other’s posts.
The blog element soon died, as people didn’t have time to write blogs, nor to read or comment on colleagues’ blogs. But the questions and microblogs survived, and we found that it’s a great way to learn about your colleagues, especially when they work at other locations. Ideas came together across domains to launch innovations and people started to talk at coffee machine about topics from the newsfeed.
Following this, we realised that tWEEThetMEE could be a form of internal communication (“working out loud” is often seen as a way of sharing knowledge rather than internal comms).
Creating a flow of information
The “old” communication flow was mainly top-down, but this would be more open, informal and transparent. We hoped the department would act more as a network organization than a classic “command and control” hierarchy. Everyone becomes a communicator and shares information, driven by their professional passion, which is what makes people discoverable by other colleagues. People get access to more information than could be shared by line management.
For this, we had to involve the whole department, so the number of participants increased to 40. And after another three-week test, we learned:
- The technique helps dispersed teams
- It’s also great for people who are co-located
- It creates virtual proximity for the home workers
- Microblogs let employees network with colleagues they don’t know
- Line managers could easily find out what’s going on in different teams.
- Small issues between teams were quickly solved.
- Teams became self-steering.
We achieved an excellent 80% adoption, though we also learned:
- You can’t underestimate the cultural change effort.
- Three weeks is too short for some people to get used to this new way of working.
- Some people are initially afraid to post information on corporate social media.
- And some struggle with writing eye catching microblogs.
- People are not accustomed to sharing work-in-progress.
We also were able to show how tWEEThetMEE could help the business to grow towards a more network-based organization. We mapped the department, with the manager and his direct reports at the centre, and the two leads and their leads on either side. We then overlaid the communication flows, based on posts and replies which create a connection between the author of the post and the author of the reply.
We see a pattern of “cross-team” communication. This result was surprising since the teams have very different work domains.
We were often asked, “What can I tweet about?”. Though people were familiar with tools for project management or agile working, they were not used to communicating about their work, certainly not about intermediate steps.
We told them that a good starting point could be to tweet about:
- What are you doing now?
- Which meeting were you in?
- What was the conclusion of this meeting?
- Ask for feedback on a draft document
- Share a link
- Announce a delivery
- Some teams like to share topics like anniversaries, holidays…
Although the initial objective of this test was to change the internal communication flow, we soon found out that this way of working contributes a lot to knowledge exchange within each team. Ultimately tWEEThetMEE contributes also to knowledge management as tacit expert knowledge is distributed in the teams via microblogs. People post drafts of their work and colleagues add their advice via comments to these documents. They are not only improving documents but adding own experiences so that people learn from each other.
Teaching other teams to use tWEEThetMEE
Now we are coaching other teams to start with it in a similar manner. Each team writes its own story and embeds the concept in a different way.
We have developed a suite of offerings for rolling out tWEEThetMEE:
- An explanation how microblogs work
- How to write a microblog
- Training in using the tool
- An adoption program
And we have different approaches for three constituencies: teams, senior managers and communities.
Teaching others to share and find information
tWEEThetMEE is more than just posting messages on a newsfeed. It means a group of connected people sharing information. Any piece of information can have a different value depending on who is reading; it is the reader who determines its value.
The flow of messages is like a river, where each team member is both feeding and fishing. When the river flows, the content changes moment by moment. But when the content doesn’t change, the river dries up, and people are no longer motivated to follow this newsfeed. So it’s important to keep the river flowing by posting frequently!
It is possible to get flooded by too much information. So we teach people to filter the flow of posts – as Clay Shirky once stated, “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” This filtering is possible in SharePoint by making an intelligent selection of people, sites and hashtags to follow. If everyone uses hashtags well, you can quickly screen the posts. We teach colleagues to use at least one hashtag per post.
Colleagues sometimes don’t post information that they think won’t be important for colleagues. This is wrong. The sender doesn’t know who will read a message. It’s up to the recipient to decide if it’s important or not. If the poster can write eye-catching messages with meaningful hashtags, this is far more useful than not posting at all. So to help colleagues do this, we came up with a description of good microblog-specific language.
During the first week, we encourage people to help each other within the team to improve their posts. Some of them just reply to the original message with comments: too fluffy, too long, not to the point… or they just give the person a call to discuss how the post could be more powerful.
Working with teams
We have worked with more than ten teams across the bisness by now. Introducing tWEEThetMEE in a team involves working with the grain of the organization rather than against it. It respects current hierarchical structures and boundaries, and team leaders can maintain a degree of control during the introduction. Who could object to effective team communication?
So, instead of trying to convince people to start tweeting in the abstract, we ask them to try it within their team. This allows them to experience the benefits for them¬selves.
For one month everybody learns the technique. After this, the team agrees how to apply what they have learned in their day-to-day team collaboration. At this point additional SharePoint features may be introduced.
Once microblogging has become embedded in daily habits, it’s easy to start connecting with people in your wider network This is the growth stage.
Working with managers and communities
The tWEEThetMEE concept is spreading bottom-up, but the adoption rate is higher when senior management are visible on this medium. Senior management is not against this initiative, but some don’t use it. This creates reactions like, “It can’t be so important if senior management isn’t doing it themselves.”
So we are working on a separate approach for senior management, helping them to have a minimum, targeted, presence on this medium that has a maximum effect on their digital reputation.
Ultimately we want to establish a more network-based organization and to break down existing silos. People who have learned new methods of working and communicating with their team often get passionate about the benefits of the medium from a corporate perspective too. They start using it outside their team context, and communicating across silos. When this happens, the change is a success for us.
Many teams have given similar feedback:
- At last we know what our colleagues are doing
- Teams have become more close-knit
- Team meetings have become more efficient and focus on discussions with real content, since background information has already been shared in microblogs.
- Sharing draft documents produces good feedback so the final version is better than a single author could achieve (co-creation)
- Work just goes a lot faster (collaboration).
tWEEThetMEE is still officially a “test”. It has not been imposed by management; and there is no roll-out scenario. But it’s going viral . Ultimately, tWEEThetMEE has meant people have been trained to use the corporate social platform by actually using it. We can watch people connecting digitally. With our offices spread over Belgium and a lot of employees working regularly from home, this platform has proved a good way to stimulate networking in our organisation.