An explosion in new communications technologies continues to challenge organizational structures and norms: the intrablog is the latest.
E-mail broke down communications barriers, speeded up the organizational memo, and ended the use of "circulation folders" (I may be dating myself with that one). All this communication is not always useful, of course. Chain-mails, CYA mail, endless CC's, giant group lists, and more recently, being buzzed on your RIM by your boss in the wee hours of a weekend is also part of the typical big-org internal communication package.
One thing e-mail and intranets are not good at is capturing real conversations and generating meaningful input from other stakeholders and staff. In one recent set of employee focus groups I ran, employees were actually wistful about the conference calls of the past as a way of quickly providing input and avoiding long strings of e-mails that are a weak substitute for dialogue.
Collaboration software has not always been a great improvement -- I can speak with some experience here, as a licensee of Team Central software. It's great at creating shared document libraries for project teams, but weak at documenting and sharing what is actually going on. The more sophisticated collaboration software, such as SharePoint, requires some internal support (ie. you'll be calling IT). But anyone can set up a blog.
Intrablogs seem to offer the potential to achieve what many org's say they want: empowered people inside fast, innovative organizations. An intrablog is a form of many-to-many communication, used in an intranet environment.
A great article in Fortune, "Why there's no escaping the blog", by David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth (Jan 10, 2005 issue) documents how some org's are now using blogs internally (Available without subscription at time of writing):
Google's employees have created several hundred internal blogs. They are used for collaborating on projects as well as selling extra concert tickets and finding Rollerblading partners. Google's public relations, quality control, and advertising departments all have blogs, some of them public. When Google redesigned its search home page, a staffer blogged notes from every brainstorm session. "With a company like Google that's growing this fast, the verbal history can't be passed along fast enough," says Marissa Mayer, who oversees the search site and all of Google's consumer web products. "Our legal department loves the blogs, because it basically is a written-down, backed-up, permanent time-stamped version of the scientist's notebook. When you want to file a patent, you can now show in blogs where this idea happened."
What a great tool to support transformational change projects that cross organizational silos -- where the challenges are not just designing the new way, but also also keeping large numbers of people engaged and informed, and finding multiple channels for getting real feedback loops going.
Clients will have lots of reasons why not to do this ... not secure enough, not on our supported platform, what if people say the wrong thing, we need to control the message, etc. etc. But this kind of control is an illusion, and perhaps it always has been. The best management can do is to create the conditions that can support the vision -- the sunshine, soil and water. Here's a first person account of using an intrablog at a small company. And here's a short and a long PowerPoint from Michael Cervone at Northwestern U that provide some good perspective and tips on intrablogs.
Intrablogs offer an easy tool to help people in organizations communicate, stay in the loop, and capture the evolving pulse of stakeholders during times of change. If it's big enough to need a project team, it's big enough to need a communication plan -- why not try an intrablog as one element?