I was very proud when our VP Development, Support and Services conducted a 3 day virtual Q&A committing to answer questions from anyone in her division. Formerly done as an all hands conference call, the use of a social forum was a definite improvement. Let me explain why.
Today, leaders have at their disposal a myriad a tools to collaborate, just to give a few examples advanced conference call features, web conferences and social networks. These tools have different degrees of capability to support the discussion and engagement. While more dynamic, a conference call turns necessarily into a one-way communication tool as the number of participants increases. For the respect of time and order, many participants turn into auditors. That's when the phone loses its proximity.
Using our social platform, our VP invited everyone to a forum discussion held over three days. Everyone was able to contribute at a convenient time - this is important as we are a global service organization. The time limit was key to force focus but still more generous than a conference call Q&A period.
With more time to participate, questions and answers became collective and enriched with deeper reflection. Everyone was able to build on the questions and answers of others. It lead to a higher quality and diversity of discussion.
Everyone was welcome to answer a question if they could. Everyone could influence the visibility of a question or suggestion via voting. Everyone felt more engaged. This allowed the discovery of awareness gaps for action and the identification of contacts to network with given common interest or specific expertise. Everyone was immerged in a productive discussion. The entire team owned the agenda for the duration of the event... and I would say after the event as well!
This allowed the management team to have the true pulse on the team, to confirm the topics of highest interest with the team for this very moment, to truly see what is on their mind, what in their view hinders their performance to act on it.
Moreover, this exchange happened on a media that is "self documenting". Interrogations were entered by each participant, ready for focus on addressing them. No need to transcribe them first and no loss of message fidelity. Out in the open and persistant after the jam, the points raised remain available for action and reference, with updates being distributed automatically to the interested parties, until that very last question is flagged as answered.
The use of forums is much more engaging than a conference call would have been. It helps build trust within the team, the entire team, because everyone has a voice. Too often, the phone is looked at as a more intimate and immediate means of reaching out to a team, thinking that setting up a forum might be overkill or too slow for results. Even a repetitive series of all hands calls would not have achieved similar results.
This example shows that a technology like social forums does not stand in the way of human collaboration but instead fuels it, freeing us up, to a certain extent, from the constraint of time.