First of all, flat organizations aren’t strictly flat. In order to grow, allow communication to flow, and projects to move forward, certain principles start to emerge. The flat terminology isn’t about grouping or structure, it’s how the decisions flow inside the company, which is more peer-to-peer and less top-down.
There is a great expectation gap between what organisations expect of community managers and the real role of fostering and developing purposeful mutual relationships. Like oil and water, control and community don’t mix. Worse still, too much control and you will have an oil spill that kills every living thing for miles.
“Keep me in the loop.”
This all too common expression is – or should be – the bane of anyone trying to implement, or just use, a community approach of working out loud for collaboration and communication. What it really means is…
I want to know what’s going on with your project, but I don’t care enough to actually spend my own time keeping up with what’s going, so please take time out of your own busy schedule and figure out what information I need to know and then make sure you get it to me. I may or may not bother to read it once you’ve sent it to me.
The next time someone asks you to “keep me in the loop”, let them know where the conversation is happening and offer to grant them access. If they don’t take you up on it, then they don’t really care. If they do take you up on it, they may never join in. But they might, and their participation will be that much more valuable because they are there intentionally, not accidentally.
This goes both ways. Next time someone talks to you about a project that you are interested in, don’t ask them to keep you in the loop. Instead, ask them, “How can I join the conversation?”
Using the Cynefin framework, which I’ve also discussed here, Shawn at the Anecdote blog takes a look at the question of When should we collaborate? It’s always useful to define your terms before starting this kind of discussion, and Shawn obliges with the following:
So what is collaboration then? It’s when a group of people come together, driven by mutual self–interest, to constructively explore new possibilities and create something that they couldn’t do on their own.
Turns out the best time to collaborate is in a complex situation, as opposed to a complicated (cooperation) or simple (coordination) situation, as shown in Shawn’s diagram below. Of course, the diagram also shows that there is potential overlap between the quadrants, and you really do need to look at each situation individually.