collaborative working – internal social networks

More and more organisations use internal private networks combining intranet and social network functionality including chat rooms and forums. Jive, Yammer and Google+ are leading proprietary platforms that organisations can use to operate these ‘enterprise social networks’. They form a communication network inside the organisation and are portals to a huge range of corporate information, collaboration and information sharing. Ideally, these networks cover employees, contract partners and suppliers who create personal or team accounts as they would on an external social network.

There are a number of prime benefits to employers from the use of internal social media networks. They include:

• collaboration across an organisation

• higher levels of employee engagement

• direct access to those who make decisions from those who put decisions into practice

• access to a huge amount of information, best practice and practical experience.

Collaborative working by another name

Many organisations have adopted ‘communities of practice’, a relatively recent initiative that exploits internal networks to share information and best practice among employees, contract partners and suppliers through online forums.

Etienne Wenger-Trayner, in his article Communities of practice – a brief introduction, says they’ve been adopted by organisations that recognise that information, and its management, is a critical asset.

He writes: “Communities of practice provide a new approach, which focuses on people and on the social structures that enable them to learn with and from each other. Today, there is hardly any organisation of a reasonable size that does not have communities of practice initiatives in some form.

“Communities of practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need, recognising that, given the proper structure, they are in the best position to do this.

“Communities among practitioners create a direct link between learning and performance, because the same people participate in communities of practice and in teams and business units.”

Organisations predominantly in education and healthcare, including University of Tasmania, Victoria University, University of Southern Queensland, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, National Disability Services and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners are harnessing the power of online networks.

Communities of practice have changed the way information is shared across these organisations, by bringing together staff, partners and suppliers in dynamic online forums.

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