The Space Between Us

In a recent webinar by Luis Suarez (@elsua) he asked the question of the attendees of what the biggest problem was in organizations today.  He stated that it was employee disengagement.  I do agree that it’s a problem but I believe this disengagement is more a symptom of a greater problem. That problem being space; the space between us.

Space is created naturally or deliberately. It’s also physical and psychological. We have space when organizations expand; space exists in time, geography, and culture. We have space when a workforce is geographically dispersed, no longer can we see the many we work and interact with. Space exists when hierarchy places people in rank and file as an artificial pecking order is created and this space between us defines who we are and how we interact.  Finally, our departmentalized functions create silos of work where space exists between them. And those functions of course are controlled by people who decide on how much space. 

When space exists we can choose to fill it constructively or like a vacuum, it just gets filled like silt settling after a heavy rain. Regardless, it never stays empty for long. Hierarchies fill the space with the written and unwritten. Policies serve to reinforce space between people by having somewhere to point to rather than someone to have conversation with. Unwritten protocol is that which maintains space by authority and creates a false respect based on fear.

Disengagement then doesn’t create space, space creates disengagement.

What can be done? The opposite of disengage is to engage and to engage is an action of people and their work being drawn together. If we want to eliminate disengagement, we must first create the opportunities to engage, to fill the space.

Social media is that opportunity in organizations that bridges the geographic divides, opens up silos of work and can level hierarchy so meritocracy can flourish. There is no question it can do the job – but it can also be an empty vessel if not strengthened by the substance of meaningful conversation, dialog and debate. If social channels swell only with courtesies to avoid conflict, content that reinforces positions, or sharing to show off, then the space not only remains but becomes more permanent.

There are far more pressing questions to be answer in organizations than “how do we measure this?” Or “how do we get people to use this?” when considering social media in an organization.  We need to first be able to answer “Who are we?” And “who do we want to become?”