Sunday, February 18, 2007

Org Charts: Social Networking for the At-Work Set

In 2005, I visited COSI Columbus. There were lots of beautifully themed exhibit spaces and fun interactives, but the thing that stuck with me most was something I saw in their employee break room. One wall was plastered with staff "profiles"--but they comprised more than just a name, title, and phone extension. They also included a photo and "My dream title" (examples: banana queen, marathon master, didjeridooer).

I was captivated. What a simple way to humanize and share information about the people with whom you work.

Org charts, like maps, aren't given the attention they should be, especially in large institutions. Granted, they can be logistical nightmares to maintain, but for many employees they are the only way to visualize and potentially connect individuals across the organization. The problem is, even when they do exist, they often have so little information or are updated so infrequently that they become useless. They're visually muddled, and even when you do get the information, job titles are often confusing at best; at my museum, the woman who maintains the artifacts is called the "Collections Manager." People think she's out there with a tire iron threatening the tour guides who don't pay on time.

Org charts are not just about putting people in their place. They are the basis for a social network of professionals. And now that social networking tools and software are advanced enough to express complex relationships between people, projects, and ideas, we should be integrating these technologies into our workplaces.

Consider, for example, the U.S. Senate. There is a site that lists each committee and subcommittee of Senate. Click on one, and you will go to its homepage. Each homepage is designed differently (ugh), so you have to hunt for the "Members" page to find all the people on that committee. Click on that senator, and you will go to their homepage. Each homepage is designed differently (double ugh) so you have to hunt for their "Committees" to find out what other ones they are on. Maybe five years ago, before 2.0, this would have been acceptable. Now, it feels hopelessly dated and slow. I want a site that shows me all the committees, lets me click through to lists of members, and lets me surf the members and their affiliations. I want great visualizations so I can see which committees influence which bills and which senators are big players across the board. Is that too much to ask?

It shouldn't be. Check out They Rule, on which you can view and generate maps (circa 2004) by linking influential people to the institutions whose boards they are on. Here's a snippet from a map of the affiliations of the JP Morgan board of directors.

And you don't have to be worth 7 figures to merit a networking application. MySpace, LiveJournal, and Facebook all provide ways for you to seamlessly view and click through friends and friends of friends. I'd like to see this used on a professional level, both to personalize the folks you work with, as in the COSI example, and to help employees meaningfully understand what talents are available to them within their own institution. At my museum, we have a list of employees and their language skills (intended for assistance with guests who do not speak English). But we should have linkable, searchable charts with all of our skills. Who's an excel maven? Who has friends to test new exhibits? Who's working on the podcast?

This is even more important considering the number of museums (and other institutions) that rely heavily on contractors and off-site folks to get projects done. I know all of the vendors working on my exhibition personally, but I'm their only pipeline to the rest of my organization. They don't have a direct connection to the IT guy they have to ask a show control question, or the marketing person who wants their sketches for promotion. They have no way to visualize, or even imagine, the people and skills they could be accessing at the museum. And similarly, my colleagues at the museum feel disconnected from all these names floating out there in different states and different sub-elements of the project. Any new contractor or employee, especially if off-site, should have access to all of this information so that they can understand the network of hierarchies, skills, actions, and roles without having to dig blindly through a sea of names, titles, and phone extensions. It would make work more efficient, the team more connected, and let new people get up to speed quickly on what's going on.

Bestiario, a design company that creates "interactive information spaces," has a neat example of this using a mind-map style chart on their homepage. Of course, they're in Barcelona. So you'll need to consult your own chart to find someone who speaks Spanish and can help you understand it. Good luck.

1 comments, add yours!:

Marcos said...

Check out this site- we have this exhibition up now at the NY Hall of Science- the maps are new ways to visualize information: