Organizations have a natural tendency to think of IT systems as repositories or as machines. Places for things to be stored or for processes to be executed.

But when it comes to collaboration platforms, we might be better to think of them as places. As  Danah Boyd’s “It’s Complicated” describes of social networks being like the shopping malls or bus shelters of old, places for people to gather, so it should go with some applications of Enterprise Social Networks.

If one thinks about the things necessary to support a community of practice, the repositories way of thinking quickly brings out ideas of libraries, or catalogues of information as the systems necessary to support such endeavours. Those might well be of importance, but they struggle to be participatory, often reinforcing ideas of structure and hierarchy.

But if one thinks instead of spaces… well, this morning I was lucky to be able to progress that train of thought with a group of project delivery professionals, grappling with ideas about how to form stronger communities within and across their organisations.

We thought about what a Minimum Viable physical Product would look like to support the growth of communities, and ideas of pubs, or village halls, or indeed community centres came to mind. But a location alone is not necessarily enough. You also need some temporal reference point. You need a place and a time.

It’s all very well being invited to the pub, but if there’s no one there when you turn up then you probably won’t go back.

This idea of a time and place is something that actually is seen a fair bit across enterprise technology – from Webinars to the cheesily-named Yam Jams that Yammer promote as a way to use time and place to promote use of their social network within organisations.

The time element here is the tricky bit, because collaboration technology is often purported to allow geographically-dispersed teams to collaborate across place and time zone. But ignoring the allure of bringing people together at the same time might be a big mistake if you are trying to get people to work together more effectively.

A big thanks to all in the Project Delivery Community group who allowed me to be a part of their discussions today and over the last few months.

I’m currently researching issues of collaboration and collaboration technology in the #sharingorg project for the Leading Edge Forum.

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