It has been almost 20 years since the birth of the social web and maybe a little less for the enterprise which caught up later. In this brave new world, especially in the enterprise, email was to be replaced in favour of tools that were simple, social and collaborative. I’ve been in the business all this time and it seems old habits die hard.
I was having a conversation with someone the other day about an initiative to build a community around the topic of innovation. The platform being suggested was an Outlook Group when I was suggesting the tools I am familiar with, Yammer or Microsoft Teams. The types of tools I have been working with (in some cases creating) for the last 20 years.
In a bit of a meta debate, we also touched on the topic of innovation. It highlighted to me that our views on innovation were also somewhat opposed. I think innovation outcomes are best served when there is less structure and more openness in every sense and friction is reduced by enhancing collaboration as much as possible.
The types of tools that reduce friction and lubricate the tracks so to speak, are simple and social and encourage idea sharing and creation. Which doesn’t mean to say you cannot have some process on the back end to take ideas though to fruition in a structured way. The other person seemed to have a slightly less liberal view of things.
The discussion went as follows (ironically we had the conversation by email and I’ve redacted some parts for sensitive information). I’ve highlighted my part and combined some of the back and forth to make it easier to read.
The reason is that our social and collaborative use case is based on a threaded view / by topic discussions. This is based on our experience how people are using communities (we also tested Teams at one point). Think of it as an online forum where everybody can create a new thread to discuss their specific question / idea / topic and keep everything together.
Teams makes it very hard to do that, essentially asking you to create a channel per topic. With posts & answers there is no good way to browse & discover conversations that are relevant for you. Also Teams is still missing features like archiving or highlighting discussions.
Yammer can be closer to a threaded view, but misses the SharePoint and file management aspects.
So right now we think that Outlook Groups are the better tool for our specific use case and how people want to use the community. We deactivated Teams for now to not split the community, but we are also keeping an eye on Teams and Yammer as they might become relevant for our use case in the future.
I couldn’t disagree more and think email is a terrible alternative. It’s the reason these other tools were built – because email is just not good for collaboration. It is good for targeted communication, mostly one way, as originally set out by Microsoft in this foundation for modern collaboration article. The article covers the role of all these in the inner / outer loop diagram and positions Yammer as the outer loop collaboration platform which is why I think it would be good. They even recently renamed Yammer Groups to Communities for good reason.
I am a member of another community who also don’t use Teams and Yammer and participation is very low in my view. They have monthly calls where there is some participation, but just like the mails that go round, its mostly one way and in email, responses often get pushed to Bcc so you lose the benefit of open collaboration. I can honestly say because of the forum used, my participation is super low.
As I’m sure you know, innovation relies on collaboration and the more friction you remove from the latter, the more you improve the former, in my view.
On some of the structural challenges you mention for Teams or Yammer, I think these can easily be overcome and happy to chat about if interested. In particular, I can explain how Teams, if it were used, can be made to work as a platform for bringing in outside content and activity. For example, GitHub integrations and the other Graph-like activity that you mentioned in the innovation community welcome mail.