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Having the rather high-sounding title of "IBF Director of Interaction", you might not be surprised to hear that I spend a lot of my time looking at what interaction is all about.

Part of my work outside of the IBF involves working in organisational theatre, which is all about interaction.

Effective interaction is not always easy to achieve, and many intranets struggle to attain good levels of interaction:

  • Tools that attempt to create interaction meet with varying degrees of success.
  • The intranet managers I meet with talk of social software not being used much and/or used only at quite low levels of interaction, with many collaborative tools being used for information sharing rather than collaboration.

At a recent IBF event one of the intranet managers I was chatting with suggested that interaction is sometimes poor on the intranet as, "A lot of I.T people are inherently introvert and shy, and don’t encourage it." I ask is this a stereotype, or a real blind spot that we need to pay attention to?

So why don’t people use interaction-based tools as much as they should?

I think it’s to do with what I’d call the "Tools Barrier", which is a phenomenon of interaction that applies to intranets, but also to interaction more generally.

The tools barrier
Have you ever sat through a course on presentation skills or time management been given a long list of seemingly clever and useful tools and techniques, dutifully filled out your  happy sheet with words like useful and interesting, only to find, on reflection that you haven’t used any of them, not a single one, in practice?

"I’ve got too many real problems to deal with before I could consider taking the time out to use those problem solving techniques."

"I haven’t the time for time management tools."

"Those presentation techniques are alright for some … but I couldn’t really use them myself."

This phenomenon I call the tools barrier and, in my view, surfaces in  a shockingly high amount of current business and industry training.

I think this phenomenon of non-use of well-intentioned tools explains why interaction is limited on intranets as well.

What are the causes of this phenomenon?

There are some supply-side factors – the people who design and "offer" these tools to users:

Supply side factors:

  • the designer- perhaps filled with good intentions – has cooked up the techniques in his/her mind but never tried them in practice, and certainly not on him/herself
  • the tool is presented as requiring perfect behaviour in the user
  • the presentation of the tool has been too closely associated with the designer and deliverer’s wish to deliver a successful intranet i.e. it is force-fitted into a situation which doesn’t work, or the designer imposes the tool and doesn’t allow local adaptation
  • the tool has been ‘power-pointed’ out of practical existence or, on the other hand, the tool is presented in poorly accessible format
  • the tool is presented in an overly complicated way
  • the tool is presented in a way that patronises the user or insults his/her intelligence
  • the tool example arrives at a solution that is so obvious that people think: I could have come up with that without wasting time on using the tool
  • the tool is jargon-ridden in a way that makes it inaccessible

Then, there are also a number of "User-side" factors, and here we come to the old chestnut that says that intranets have to be prepared for culturally. Culture and organisation design may have to change a bit to welcome an intranet!

User side factors:

  • the user has entered the inranet world having decided (consciously or sub-consciously) that the current status quo is fine and that he/she isn’t about to take on board anything new
  • the user simply doesn’t like being taught new tricks by someone else, particularly an “outsider”
  • the user cannot visualise the tool working in practice and the amount of effort required to try to visualise it is outweighed by the relief of deciding not to do so
  • the correct use of the tool calls forth a behaviour or attitude that doesn’t accord with the user’s current beliefs, attitudes or desires
  • the user cannot see the relevance of the tool to his/her problem at hand, or feels it is being force-fitted into a situation
  • the tool emphasises personal weaknesses in the user that he/she would rather keep private. For example: drawing skills, mathematical skills etc.
  • the tool requires behaviours or attitudes which the user doesn’t associate with doing "real work" or which they see as wasting company time and money e.g. drawing a picture

These factors for both the participant and facilitator could lead to intranets that are interesting, enjoyable and engaging, resulting in little or no personal or organizational change.

More on this soon! Back to the sunshine of Pavilion Gardens cafe!

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is DWG’s Managing Director for Member Services. In addition to heading up service delivery, she is responsible for member engagement, retention and growth. Nancy also sits on DWG’s Board of Directors.

Prior to joining the Digital Workplace Group, Nancy was a accomplished executive at JPMorgan Chase where she built and led a global team in desigining and implementing an award-winning intranet. She also led digital enablement and business re-engineering initiatives.

Outside work, Nancy is a wine maker, fundraiser, meditator, wife and mother of two.

Connect with Nancy on Twitter: @nancyatdwg or on Google +.

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