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Your Story: Throwing new tools at a communication problem?

I'm working on a (likely non-43 Folders) piece about a topic that seems to keep coming up whenever I talk with people about how their team plans, collaborates, and generally communicates with one another. I'd love to hear from you in comments if you have a contribution to make.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story about a time when your team or company tried to solve a human communication problem by adding a new tool? In your estimation, how did things turn out?


Yours doesn't need to be a horror story to be included here -- there are certainly ample examples in which a thorny problem disappeared by introducing a bit of high (or low) technology to the mix.

But, the anecdotes I hear from worker bees often focus on the frustration they felt when a wiki, a new CMS, a mailing list, or some other tool was introduced into an ecosystem that was suffering from a more fundamental communication problem. A lot of people tell me that this makes matters much worse all around, often amplifying the complexity of the original problem, in addition to piling on burnt cycles that were committed on getting everyone up to speed on the new "silver bullet."

If you have a minute over the next week or so, please share your story here. Redact details that you think need redacting, but please consider telling me how things went for you and your group. And, if you feel like a whole or partial solution to the core problem ever did come along, that would be great to know, as well. Already documented this someplace else? Know of someone else who did? Links to relevant stories are also greatly appreciated.

If things pan out, I may be contacting a few of you offline for more details, and conceivably, an interview or two. Thanks in advance.

technocrat's picture

Problems come and go, communication debris accumulates

A homely example: I still have a fax number on my business card. Although I sometimes send a fax (very rare), I never receive one. I still have a street address on my business card. I still get FedEx envelopes with manually signed letters, I rarely send one. I still have an email address on my business card. Although I get relatively little spam, I read 10% of what I get and answer maybe half of that. I still have an office phone on my business card. No more than 10% of calls I make or receive are live--it's done through voice mail. For almost every meeting there's a call-in number even if every one is actually in the office within a three-minute walk/elevator ride. If there's an all-hands meeting in a department, no one will ask a question, but will have whispered conversations afterwards about what wasn't said.

The worst communication tool I ever used at work was the Blackberry. Don't get me wrong, it has its place. But as a tool to exchange ideas anything more complex than where to meet for lunch it is too bandwidth starved. Trying to make decisions based on people thumb typing ideas based on descriptions of attached powerpoint decks summarizing three levels of committee meetings based on other powerpoints ... . Well, you get the idea.

In large organizational settings, however, it is the near immortality of communication channels and their overlapping and underlapping purposes and intended audiences that gets me. If the man with two watches can never be sure what time it is, the big business with legacy channels can never be sure what planet it's on. The process energy hump to get any channel set up guarantees that it will be kept "just in case" even though content becomes stale. A bot could roam these systems taking down the zombie channels and although no one would notice, no one would ever want to say, "no, we don't need it anymore."

Then there are the Harold Pinter plays based on Kafka reinterpreted as Dilbert dates Alice in Wonderland that you fall into with the "Enterprise Knowledge Management Enablement Empire" to guarantee that only ASCII characters guaranteed not to crash the mainframe screen scraper systems and other high-risk issues are locked down through controls on the creation, versioning, branding, stylesheets and access privileges for corporate systems to assure a uniform standard, based on the lowest possible denominator. As Admiral Hooper said "ships are safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for."

One consequence of lockdown is that the Google powered intranet search engine is useless. Think about it. If users can link only with approval, most pages end up linking within only a very narrow domain.

The best communications tool I ever used at work was the 15-minutes reserved each day for my boss and our two assistants to have a stand-up meeting to huddle. Some days it ran over, many days it was a quick 1-minute "nothing to bring up..




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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