Making the most of informal social networks

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exploring the implications of social networks for learning and development, learning professionals and learning


1. INFORMAL NETWORKS Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, how they are changing the call it a family:world of work Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. Jane Howard, Novelist Jeremy Blain, Director, International PartnersNetwork, Cegos Group 2. CONTENTS OVERVIEW & EXECUTIVE SUMMARY1. INFORMAL NETWORKS A SOFTWARE HERITAGE2. THE RELEVANCE OF SUCH NETWORKS IN L&D3. THE SME QUESTION4. A LEARNING NETWORK IN PRACTICE SHIBUYA UNIVERSITY5. CHANGING THE WORLD OF WORK THE BENEFITS6. AND THE CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS7. WHERE NEXT? THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO GET STARTED Cegos Group, 2010/2011 3. This paper looks at the growth of informal networks and how they have developed, the main characteristics that dene them, the environment in which they ourish, and their impact on the world of work.OVERVIEW & EXECUTIVE SUMMARYThis short white paper will look at the growth of informal networks and thepotential impact such networks are having on the world of work. The paperwill link in to a number of issues raised in the broader May 2010 white paperfrom Cegos Exploring and Interpreting the Most Important Learning Trendsacross the Globe.Its important at the outset, however, to clarify the parameters of this paper.While social media networking tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, areplaying a fundamental role in driving these networks forward and enablingother networks to be created, this white paper will not focus on thetechnologies and the use of these information dissemination vehicles per se.The paper will look at how these networks have developed from the softwareworld, the main characteristics that dene them agility and responsivenessand collaboration, and the environment and values in which such networksourish. Going back as far as the Invisible College in the 17th century,the paper will examine the relevance of such networks to L&D, why SMEsseem more able to embrace them, and the benets to organisations fromempowerment to improved feedback to sharing best practices.Finally, the paper will look at the challenges L&D departments face instructuring informal learning networks within existing activities and the maincriteria for success. Cegos Group, 2010/2011 4. 1. INFORMAL NETWORKS A SOFTWARE HERITAGENetworks today play a vital role in the bringing together of people with distinct Cooperative, articulateinterests and the sharing of information. They can redene communities, and considerategeography and identity; can be formed around shared interests; and enablelearning, communication and knowledge sharing. people comprise the best teams. TheThe development of information-driven cross-country and cross-company Agile Manifesto, like anetworks over the last few years has been driven principally by the IT andsoftware industry. compass, helps guide the team towards aWith the Internet and related social networking tools providing the key medium common goal as anyfor the dissemination of information, open source software communitiesand their focus on agility, responsiveness, community building, and high member can deviate inperformance collaboration, have provided a model which is now starting to be the fog of uncertainty,followed within the world of learning. complexity and stressThe impact that such informal networks can have on organisations and theculture changes they can engender is well illustrated in the diagram below astatement of values from The Agile Manifesto, a group of software developerswhich originally formed in 2001 to dene the approach now known as agile Peter Lehman, Applied Innovations Research on the Agile Manifestosoftware development.Through their work, they acknowledged in the Manifesto that they areuncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helpingothers do it and that they have come to value individuals and interactionsover processes and tools; collaborative technology over documentation;collaboration with the customer the end user over contract negotiations;and the all important ability and exibility in responding to change rather thanadhering rigidly to an existing plan. Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools Leveraging Collaborative over Comprehensive Documentation Technology Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation Responding to Change over Following a Plan/Existing Path Cegos Group, 2010/2011 5. Another informal network that has direct application to the world of worktoday is that of the Scrum Alliance, a not-for-prot professional membershiporganisation that in the Alliances own words is an agile approach tomanaging complex problems.The Scrum Alliances mission is to increase awareness and understanding of ! KEY POINTS We have much toScrum, provide resources to individuals and organisations using Scrum, and learn from the agility,promote the iterative improvement necessary to succeed with Scrum. responsiveness, community building,So what is the Scrum process? It is is an agile process focusing on delivering and high performancethe highest business value in the shortest possible time. It is based around collaboration that denesself-organizing teams that create an agile environment for delivering projects the networks of theand determining the best means of achieving their goals. Problem solving software industry.consists of the team split into a series of sprints of between two and fourweeks of focused activity on one or a series of linked items. If anyone has Such networks requirequestions or needs re-assurance, the blog site doubles as a second self- a culture change withinorganized environment, where issues are dealt with without the need for a organisations and amanagers and a more hierarchical structure. In this way, Scum can boast to move from process andbe a truly empowered organisation. tools to individuals and interactions.While its main focus remains software and how it can change the world ofwork, Scrum today is relevant to every facet of an organisation and the means The Scrum Alliance isof acquiring information and skills. Read the articles on their web site and dened by self-organisingterms such as the agile manager and executive coaching come to the fore communities and trueregularly. empowerment. 712 courses offered worldwide. 100,000 global members. Ofces in New York, Brussels and Beijing. Recent Gatherings in Australia, China, India, the Netherlands, and Portugal. Cegos Group, 2010/2011 6. 2. THE RELEVANCE OF SUCH NETWORKS IN LEARNING & DEVELOPMENT About the year 1645,So what relevance do such networks have to todays learning environment? while I lived in London,What can we learn from software developers and their focus on agility and I had the opportunityempowerment? of being acquaintedSuch models can have immediate applicability to the world of work where with worthy persons,collaboration, when done well, can help organisations and teams become inquisitive naturalmore agile, exible and adaptable to change. philosophy, and otherAnd they are not new, either. As far back as the 17th Century, a group of parts of human learning.scientists set up what was called as the Invisible College as a means of We did meet weekly inacquiring knowledge together through experimental investigation. According London on a certainto Wikipedia, the term now refers mainly to the free transfer of thoughtand technical expertise, usually carried out without the establishment of day and hour, underdesignated facilities or institutional authority, spread by a loosely connected a certain penalty, andsystem of word of mouth referral or localized bulletin-board system. a weekly contributionToday, it is technologies, such as Web 2.0 and social media networking tools, for the charge ofsuch as Facebook, that are providing the platform for this bulletin board experiments, withsystem. The Skillsoft Social Networking at Work Survey in January 2010, for certain rules agreedexample, which surveyed 3,000 learning professionals, found 91% believingthat social networking principles can be even more useful in a professional amongst us, to treatenvironment than a personal one. and discourse of such affairs...Just as software developers have collaborated together for years and justas we are empowering ourselves in relation to our health (where do you rstgo when you want to know what your symptoms mean?), the last few yearshaving seen a proliferation of informal learning networks. As the diagrambelow illustrates, we have moved from artisans to hierarchies to networks. John Wallis, one of the founders of The Invisible CollegeThe white paper includes some network examples in the box at the bottom ofthis section.WORK:ARTISANS HIERARCHIES NETWORKS19th C +/- 20th C 21st C Cegos Group, 2010/2011 7. Informal Learning Networks some examples ! KEY POINTS Software-based network models can have43 Things a social networking site based around the concepts of people immediate applicabilitydescribing and sharing personal goals (in many cases learning goals) and then to the world of workcollaborating towards achieving them with others with similar goals. Experts, where collaboration,who have achieved these goals, can offer expertise. when done well, can help organisations and teams become more agile, exible and adaptable to change. Driven by technologies, L&D networks are on theA source for guidance on best practice and future trends in technology-based rise. There are alreadylearning and development at work, with more than 2500 members in the UK many to choose from.and beyond.An executive network on management methods, models and concepts.A free ethical learning and development resource and network for people andorganisations. Cegos Group, 2010/2011 8. 3. THE SME QUESTION One thing its also important to mention is that, to date, SMEs have tended Cegos Groups May to be much more adept at embracing informal networks than larger 2010 survey found that organisations. mid-sized companies Why is this? Part of the reason is that SMEs tend to more agile, and are able are leading the way to focus on individual interactions and collaboration rather than being rooted over larger companies in a mentality of processes and documentation. In short, they are much closer to the values that the Agile Manifesto aspires to than larger companies. with more customised and innovative forms Our May 2010 white paper also came to similar conclusions with a survey of learning rather than at that time nding that mid-sized companies (with 250 to 1,000 employees) are leading the way with more customised forms of e-learning and blended traditional off the shelf learning rather than traditional off the shelf packages utilised more by the packages. larger companies (see the diagram, below). The same is the case with informal networks. % 1000 + 250 to 999 less than 25010090 93% 93% 90%80706050 49%40 44% 37%30 34% 34% 35% 32% 32% 31%20 25% 24% 23%100 Group/ Online On the job Blended E-learning with instructor led self-driven coaching/ learning online tutor mentoring Cegos Group, 2010/2011 9. 4. A LEARNING NETWORK IN PRACTICEOne of the best examples today of a learning network in practice is that of People think thatShibuya University in Tokyo. The University demonstrates how creating an education lasts until youinformal cooperative learning culture can promote the sharing of expertisefor the greatest benet of the community without a reliance on more formal graduate from school.learning structures, such as academically qualied teachers and lesson plans. But I think that peopleIt also incorporates some of the key elements of a successful learning network should continue to learn agility, collaboration and the highly democratic notion that everyone is equal. even after graduation. Yasuaki Sakyo, President Shibuya UniversityThe whole philosophy of the University is grounded on the pretext thateverybody should have the chance to join in and share knowledge anybodycan be a teacher, anybody can be a student.Unlike traditional universities, there are no entrance examinations and nograduation degrees. Classes are led by teachers from all walks of life; coveralmost any subject under the sun; and take place in the local community inshopping complexes, restaurants, record shops, museums and even temples.At Shibuya University, learning is fun and relevant to the individual - peoplechoose what they want to learn. Classes can be about anything people areinterested in and range from Scotch whiskey tasting and the art of distillation(in a British-style pub, of course) to environmental issues and what you needto know before an election.Shibuyas free-owing approach to learning is a stark contrast to traditional,formal Japanese teaching methods and is a clear sign of the times ofhow todays younger generation want to learn. There is much that L&Ddepartments can learn from Shibuya as we look to embrace formal learningnetworks. Cegos Group, 2010/2011 10. 5. CHANGING THE WORLD OF WORK THE BENEFITSSo what can we, as L&D professionals, draw from this growth in cross-country and cross-company informal networks? What are the benets? Whatare the challenges? And how can organisations, whether larger organisationsor SME, best harness their potential? ! KEY POINTS Increased levels of empowerment, a highlyTheres no doubt that informal networks are changing the world of work as we interactive feedback loop,know it with signicant benets. the ability to share best practices, the applicabilityThey are increasing the levels of empowerment, among learners allowing to organisational modelsthem to move away from the traditional manager-led, hierarchical structure such as remote working,and set their own learning paths. There is no better example of this and reduced costs areempowerment that the agile software movement where equality and lack of all potential benets ofhierarchy is the foundation to everything they do. The result is an ability to learning networks.react according to changing circumstances and ensure that everything theydo is rooted in real user needs.Another benet is the ability to create a highly interactive feedback loop.Informal networks can provide learners with a continuous stream of feedback more so than they would be ever likely to receive within the organisationsthey work for. Whether this is always feedback L&D departments would There is a growing demand for the abilitysupport is up for debate, but the fact remains that such feedback can be ahuge source of support and strength to the learner. to connect to others. It is with each other thatEngaging with informal networks also provides the opportunity for sharing we can make sense,best practices across companies and countries. This aligns itself with thelearning model of connectivism, based on the theory that learning exists in the and this is rather than simply in the head of an individual. See the quote from one Organisations, in orderof connectivisms founders, George Siemens, below. to function, need toThe informal learning network model can also be particularly benecial for encourage socialparticular types of workers, such as remote teams. And these teams are exchanges and socialcontinuing to grow. A recent survey from City & Guilds and the Institute learning due to fasterof Leadership and Management (ILM) found 73% of respondents sayingremote management is common within their organisation with 37% of leaders rates of business andmanaging fully or predominantly remote teams. technological changes. Social experience isFinally, there is the benet of cost. At a time of declining training budgets andan end to week-long training courses, the emergence of highly cost effective adaptive by nature and ainformal networks has come just at the right time. Yet at no stage should social learning mindsetinformal networks be seen as an excuse for cutting budgets but rather should enables better feedbackbe based around a reallocation of budgets. With as little as 10% of learningoccurring through formal development and yet up to 80% of L&D budgets on environmentalspent in this area (Source: The People Bulletin), there certainly is a compelling changes back to thecase for a realignment of priorities. organisation. George Siemens, leading Theorist behind Connectivism Cegos Group, 2010/2011 11. 6. AND THE CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONSJust as there are benets, there are also challenges to todays L&D practitioner.Principal among this is the relevance and appropriateness of content thatlearners are accessing as part of these informal networks. How can you be ! KEY POINTS Be aware of informationsure that such information and expertise will contribute to your companys overload and theethos? Is there a danger of decentralising such knowledge and learning that it relevance of content.has no relevance to a companys culture and values? Make sure you experienceInformation overload can also be a problem. Recent research from analyst such networks, let theBersin & Associates shows that 68% of knowledge workers now feel that their learner drive them, bringbiggest learning problem is an overwhelming volume of information. the line manager on board, and communicate!So how can organisations, L&D and HR departments capture the same spiritof innovation and collaboration that has been demonstrated by the software A culture change might becommunity and how can the development of work-based informal networks, the result. Organisationssuch as the Scrum Alliance, be harnessed for the good of the organisation? can also set up their own informal networks!In order to take full advantage of informal learning networks, L&D professionalsmust nd ways to formalise informal learning to manage its use by learnersand to protect against information overload. Informal learning networks alsoneed to be linked to specic skills development and talent managementstrategies and structured in such a way that it has a measurable impact onindividual and organisational performance.There are a number of key prerequisites for achieving this:HR & L&D professionals need to not only be aware of such networks butexperience them. Research requires these people to join these networks anddraw their own conclusions from them.They also need to allow the learners to drive such initiatives. As soon ascompanies try to set out overbearing guidelines for the use of such informalnetworks, the benets and sense of empowerment will be lost.As discussed in some detail in the May 2010 white paper, the role of the linemanager will remain vital in focusing and reinforcing what is learned as a resultof these networks and how it can be utilised in day-to-day work activities.Although not cross-company, there are also opportunities for organisationsto establish their own informal, cross-country networks. One means ofenabling this is through Elgg (see separate box).Communications is also vital. People must be given reasons to engagewith these networks and understand whats in it for them in terms of theirrespective role in the workplace.Finally, any embracing of informal networks must inevitably lead to a culturechange within an organisation. Going back to the Agile Manifesto, thereneeds to be a paradigm shift away from processes and tools towards individualsand interactions and an increased exibility and agility within an organisation. Itis here where SMEs are stealing a march on their larger counterparts.Elgg is an award-winning open source social networking engine that providesa robust framework on which to build all kinds of social environments, froma campus wide social network for your university, school or college or aninternal collaborative platform for your organisation through to a brand-building communications tool for your company and its clients. Cegos Group, 2010/2011 12. 7. WHERE NEXT? THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO GET STARTEDWhile informal networks and the technologies that support them havedeveloped remarkably quickly over the last few years, theres no reason why the ! THREE THINGS YOU CANpace of change and innovation should not accelerate even faster over the nextfew years. DO NOWIts also clear that software-led networks continue to set the standards in TO GETterms of agility, responsiveness and collaboration, and broader learning-based STARTEDnetworks still have a great deal to do in order to be true equals. The scene hasbeen set for an interesting few years! See Whats Out There. Learn and experience the informal learning networks already out there. Try them out for yourselves. Ask if your employees are using such networks (you may not know if they are or not). How useful do they nd them? Take the Learners Perspective. How can we help learners utilise these network and continue to enjoy them? We could perhaps roll-out software to make it easier for learners to engage. Make sure that they continue to lead the learning experience. Get That Buy-In from managers and, most important of all, line managers who must support the process. Remember we are talking about a potentially signicant culture change. Cegos Group, 2010/2011 13. REFERENCESThe Agile Manifesto www.businessballs.comCegos Survey, May 2010City & Guilds and the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) Survey. See Corporate Learning Factbook 2009: Benchmarks, Trends & Analysis of theUS Training Market; Bersin & Associates.Elgg eLearning Network www.elearningnetwork.orgThe Invisible College Scrum Alliance www.scrumalliance.orgSkillsoft Social Networking at Work Survey, January 2010 www.skillsoft.com43 Things www.43things.com12Manage www.12manage.comABOUT CEGOS GROUPCegos Group, established in 1926 is today the European leader in professionaleducation and one of the major global players. Its consultants have expertiseacross all subject areas in management and developing competencies: humanresources, management and leadership, performance and organizationalskills, individual and team performance, marketing and commercial, projectmanagement, deployment of large training systems internationally.In 2008, the Cegos Group achieved sales of 195.5 M and trained more than200,000 staff in Europe and internationally. Cegos employs 1,200 consultantsand works in 30 countries across the more details, debate or discussion, please or + 44 (0)7714 521045 Cegos Group, 2010/2011