I visited a new office today, meeting people i’d never met before. Naturally i googled them first and checked out the website: vision, strategy, intent, it gave me great insight into the messages they wanted to broadcast.
When i drove up to the front door, at five to the hour, there was a group outside, some smoking. I overheard the conversation as i walked up, “three minutes to go, better get going“. The group was clearly mixed, different teams, mangers and staff, mixed together for an informal gathering before work recommenced.
Which of these two experiences do you think gave me greater insight into the true culture?
The first was a curated space, a broadcast message with formal intent. The latter was an informal, social moment, glimpsed from the outside, giving insight into a common mindset, a relaxed style, a coherent team on a break from formal effort. Behind the branding, the frosted glass and the website, the overheard minutes of a relaxed team gave me greater insight into a true culture than any amount of formal messaging.
Social channels provide these glimpses into these other worlds, the separate communities: it’s often in these spaces that tribal knowledge is shared, that information filters and that we make sense of what is happening around us.
Sure: these spaces don’t come without their challenges. What if you don’t smoke? What if they represent a sub culture that excludes others? Clearly my sixty second insight wouldn’t have revealed that, but it still gave me more of a ‘feeling‘ than any formal space could have done.
There’s value in formal, but great value in social spaces. That’s why social learning is so effective and social leadership so important. It lets us see behind the facade, to get to where the action really happens.