5 Ways That Systems of Engagement Bring Out Our Full Social Selves

by cv harquail on June 22, 2011

Technology has a way of sucking the humanity right out of us.

Consider how we describe, design and deploy ‘enterprise 2.0’ and work system technologies in our organizations:201106222039.jpg

— When we talk about technology systems, we talk about machines, platforms, inputs and outputs.  We forget about values, emotion, flourishing, meaning and purpose.

— When we design technology systems, we think about control, architecture, scripts, modularity, and proxies. We forget about comfort, warmth, touch, and beauty.

— When we use technology, we automate, codify, record and retrieve. We forget about expressing, feeling, creating, and giving.

Too many work technologies are systems of extraction.

We keep upgrading to technology systems that extract more work from us, while giving back less and less to us.

So who can blame us if we’re not all enthusiastic about Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business initiatives? Once the shine wears off the new tools, we’re left wondering — What’s in this for me? What’s in this for you? What’s in this for us?

You’ve heard me say before that the Enterprise 2.0- digital- social- business- system- industry-complex seems to be running on the wrong rails. Too many technology products are designed, positioned, and ‘sold’ to us as ways to streamline and enhance collective tasks so that we improve bottom line business results.

There’s nothing wrong with that goal, except that it’s so narrow, so limiting, and so shareholder-centered. It’s just not about being human.

We need to talk about how digital social media enterprise business systems can help us, the users, be more of who we are individually and together.

We need to figure out how to transform these systems of extraction these digital-social-media-enterprise-business systems into systems of engagement. We need to build technology systems that help us to be more fully social human as we work together.

5 Needs for Full, Social, Human-ness

When we human people work with other human people, there are five human needs that have to be met in order for us to be our full social selves.


These are our needs for:

  1. Identity
  2. Voice
  3. Agency
  4. Community
  5. Purpose

Currently, in too many organizations, we are controlled, constrained, muted, forbidden, or discouraged from being fully human, because the work systems  make it hard for us to meet these 5 needs.

However, as work systems for enterprise coordination, knowledge management, work process flow, and customer relationship management become more social, they are also creating new opportunities for us to be more human while we work together.

5 Ways That Systems of Engagement Bring Out Our Full Social Selves

1. Systems of Engagement Enable Identity

We humans want to be who we are. We want to bring our full selves to work and into our interactions with colleagues, while we are are making and doing things. When we are able to be who we are in specific, descriptive, textured, multiple ways, we can be ‘more fully there’ at work.

Systems of engagement let us define who we are, help us be seen for who we are, and help us be known for who we are allow us to contribute our full selves. They help us connect who we are, what we have to offer, and what needs to be done, helping us find and create personal meaning.

2. Systems of Engagement Foster Voice

Voice is our ability to say in our own way what we think needs to be said and to be heard when we say it. Voice is the full expression of who we are, what we think, and how we feel. When we have voice, we are able to offer ideas, share insights, and offer feedback.

Systems of engagement create ways for us to speak, to spread our words, to be heard by others, and to be listened to by others. They allow us to use our voice to collaborate and to contribute.

3. Systems of Engagement Activate Agency

Agency is our ability to act, to get things done, and to cause things to happen. Agency is our ability to make choices and to enact those choices. When we have agency we are makers, doers, creators, innovators. We get stuff done.

Systems of engagement create opportunities for agency because they give us more places in which we can act. Systems of engagement also give us the autonomy, responsibility and accountability that agency requires. We are able to decide, to engage, and to act.

4. Systems of Engagement Cohere Communities

Communities are our connections with other people — not just dyadic connections, but also networked connections. We yearn to be connected with people who know us, who like us, and who need us. When we have  a community, we have a slew of direct and indirect relationships in which we can be supportive, helpful, and influential. We matter to others.

Systems of engagement help us find the people we need and who need us. These systems help us create and sustain connections through which we and others form collectives, collectives that have capability beyond the sum of members’ individual ability.

5. Systems of Engagement Catalyze Purpose201106222049.jpg

Purpose is our reason for being. Purpose is the cause outside ourselves that focuses our contributions to our community. When we have a purpose we can have commitment, vision, motivation, collaboration, and accomplishment. Our (work) lives have meaning.

Systems of engagement help us channel our attention and our efforts towards our purpose. They link us and our work to important tasks, and link our individual work to the work of others. They accumulate, organize, synthesize, and amplify our individual and collective efforts to help us achieve our purpose.

Identity, Voice, Agency, Community, and Purpose are not focus of social media technologies in organizations, but they should be.

Systems of engagement can certainly help us meet business needs. And they can do so much more. Systems of engagement can help us transform how we work together, by enabling identity, fostering voice, activating agency, cohering communities and catalyzing purpose so that we meet our human needs as much if not more than business needs.


We don’t need “social business” technology to suck less of the humanity out of us.

We need technology-enabled social systems that invite us to engage our full selves in our work together.

We need systems of engagement.

How do we create systems of engagement that bring out our full selves?
See my related post: How to Design Social Business Systems For Engaged, Social Organizations

See also:

Social Organizations Care About Personal Development by Jamie Notter, SocialFish

How Social Media Create Organizational Meaning
Your Authentic Social Network: The Identity Graph
Make Distinctiveness Matter by Linking It To Organizational Purpose
Images from Flickr:
from bartb_pt

Machine à répandre la chimie… from ‘ m x b c h r
Blue Network from ringwell

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